What We’ve Heard – St. John’s, NL
The Expert Panel for the review of environmental assessment (EA) processes met in St. John’s October 5th, 2016, for in-person sessions which included public presentations and a public workshop.
The following summary presents the comments and input received throughout these in-person engagement sessions. It is intended to present the views of participants, and not the views of the Panel itself.
The summary is organized using the Panel’s “Suggested Themes for Discussion”, available on the Panel’s website at www.EAreview.ca.
The Panel wishes to thank all those who participated for sharing their expertise and experience at these sessions.
Environmental Assessment in Context
The Panel heard that they should consider that EA is only one part of a greater regulatory regime that includes licensing and permitting by other regulatory bodies, as in the example of offshore oil and gas exploration. It was explained that the overall regulatory regime does an adequate job of protecting the environment and that overall regulatory certainty is important for getting resources to market.
In discussions about what outcomes EA should achieve, it was stated that environmental, social and economic sustainability is the desired outcome. It was suggested that EA should move beyond the current focus of mitigating significant adverse environmental effects and should result in an approach that protects all aspects of the environment.
Overarching Indigenous Considerations
The Panel heard that Indigenous input is typically not taken into consideration for offshore oil and gas projects, as these projects happen far away from shore and thus would not affect traditional use. Additionally, the Panel heard that traditional practices should be taken into consideration in the EA process, and that there is a need for meaningful consultation with Indigenous Peoples, including timelines that do not result in consultation fatigue.
Planning of Environmental Assessment
There were a number of concerns expressed with regards to the current Regulations Designating Physical Activities, or project list, and the types of projects subject to EA under the current regime. Specifically, the Panel heard concerns that offshore oil and gas exploration should not be a designated project on the list, due to the short term nature of exploration licenses and the fact that no predicted significant adverse effects have been found for offshore projects to date. Aquaculture was brought up as a project type that should require an EA, with the example of aquaculture in Placentia Bay off the west coast of Newfoundland.
There was discussion about the level of detail required by responsible authorities in both project descriptions and environmental impact statements. It was argued that the level of detail required at an early stage of project development limits the ability for proponents to make substantive changes to their projects throughout the EA process. This limited ability to make changes to project design may have an implication on how EA can be used as a planning tool, and has in some cases resulted in unnecessary delays in the process due to numerous revisions or information requests.
Conduct of Environmental Assessment
The Panel heard that there is a perceived conflict of interest when a proponent hires a consultant to carry out scientific studies and write the environmental impact statement, which is then submitted to government for review. A proposed solution was that consultants could be hired by the government agency or review panel responsible for the EA to carry out the work. It was suggested that, in an ideal world, it could be a neutral agency, supported with resources from government. This could create an arm’s length relationship between the proponent and the consultant carrying out the study and eliminate any real or perceived bias in the conclusions made in the environmental impact statement.
A number of presenters were concerned with the responsible authorities under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 (CEAA 2012). They felt that the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (CNLOPB) is the best placed regulator to carry out EAs, due to their knowledge and expertise of the offshore oil and gas industry. They mentioned that the CNLOPB has experience completing class screenings under the former act and completes strategic EAs for the offshore oil and gas industry. Another view suggested that the CNLOPB had no environmental experience related to offshore and that staff moved in and out from industry to government creating a conflict of interest.
Decision and Follow-up
The Panel heard that EA decision-making should be the responsibility of the Minister of Environment and Climate Change. Participants advocated for a transparent decision-making process where the decision-maker could be held accountable for whatever choice was made about a project.
There was concern about a lack of monitoring and follow-up in the post EA stage. Some felt like this aspect has been particularly lacking and should receive more focus and attention. Without monitoring and follow-up, the process cannot be improved by learning from past mistakes in predictions. It was mentioned that the goal of the process should be for a continuously adapting, self-correcting system. It was also mentioned that a database of past compliance by proponents should be created.
It was suggested that the regulator with the most expertise and knowledge of the industry or project type should be responsible for verifying compliance and enforcing EA conditions.
Participants stressed to the Panel that public involvement and opportunities to participate in EAs are very important to increase Canadians’ trust in the process. By making the process accessible and understandable, and by educating Canadians about how EA works, confidence may be increased in the final decision and outcome of a project review.
Many expressed their view that Canadians need to be engaged at an earlier stage in the EA, prior to the submission of a project description. Additionally, being engaged in the development of environmental impact statement guidelines and in monitoring, follow-up, compliance and enforcement activities would be seen as an improvement to public participation in the EA process.
Finally, some expressed the view that there is a power imbalance in current EA processes in terms of the information that proponents provide versus public input. They felt as though the public had less capacity to provide input and should receive more help from government to adequately participate in the EA process.
A number of presenters voiced their concerns about duplication occurring as a result of CEAA 2012. Under the current regime, it is possible for an offshore exploration project to require both an EA under CEAA 2012 and under the Canada–Newfoundland and Labrador Atlantic Accord Implementation Act, creating potential duplication and fragmentation in the regulatory regime for these projects.
List of Presenters
- Hanna Janzen, Exon Mobil Canada Ltd.
- Stephanie Curran, Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers
- Steve Bonnell
- Robert Cadigan, Newfoundland and Labrador Oil and Gas Industries Association
- Donald Hustins, Salmonid Council
- Piotr Trela
- There were 11 participants for the public workshop.
Submissions Received in St. John's
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