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The Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change is now considering public comments on its latest approvals reform proposal: moving many permits to take water to the “permit by rule” approach of the Environmental Activity and Sector Registry (EASR). The next EASR proposal, for end of life vehicle management, is due later this month.

The theory of EASR is that many environmental activities have routine, predictable impacts and always obtain permits with essentially the same conditions. These activities can automatically be allowed to proceed, on standard conditions, by registering with the Ministry, without waiting many months for a Ministry employee to impose those same conditions. The EASR conditions can still be enforced the same way as a permit, through complaints and/or proactive inspections.

In addition, a senior official of the organization carrying on the activity must certify that they are complying with the conditions. Sooner or later, the Ministry will prosecute someone for signing such a certificate when it wasn’t true, which may incent greater attention to detail.

The proposed permits to take water exemptions are mostly about construction projects, which disrupt water but don’t consume it. These seem to fall into the “predictable” category, in that they shouldn’t usually have material effects on water quantity. As to water quality, hopefully, the Ministry will tighten up the rules on preventing erosion and sedimentation during construction before the EASR regulation is released; the draft technical paper seems much too relaxed on this front.

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