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Two new regulations will significantly reduce federal environmental assessment requirements for projects being funded under the federal stimulus package, the Building Canada plan.Man throwing papers

The regulations will be in effect for two years, until March 2011. During that time, the governing Conservatives hope to develop a more comprehensive reform of the Act, applicable to all industry sectors.

The first regulation, Additions to the Exclusion List Regulations, 2007, removes federal environmental assessments for a long list of infrastructure projects that will supposedly have “insignificant” environmental effects. The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency predicts that this will remove assessment requirements for up to 2000 infrastructure projects over the next two years, about 90% of the infrastructure projects that would otherwise receive federal EA.

Some of the proposed projects are clearly not objectionable, such as improving the energy efficiency of a municipal or community building, or repairing damage after a natural disaster. However, the exemptions will also apply to numerous projects with potentially significant local environmental effects, such as roads, bridges, buildings, waste disposal sites, etc.. Anything more than 250 m from an environmentally sensitive area is now presumed to have no adverse effect, whether or not 250 m is actually a large enough buffer. Projects will still be exempt from federal EA, even if they are built within 250 m of an environmentally sensitive area, and even if it is part of federal responsibility to protect them, provided that:

1.     The project is consistent with any local law or management plan,

2.    some measures must be in place to protect the environmentally sensitive area, and

3.    total project costs are less than $10M.

The second regulation, the Infrastructure Projects Environmental Assessment Adaptation Regulations, enables the federal government to defer assessment of large Building Canada Plan infrastructure projects to a provincial environmental assessment. The Minister must be satisfied that the provincial process includes some of the usual elements of environmental assessment, (such as public access to documents and an opportunity to comment), but it need not include uniquely federal considerations, such as cumulative effects.Federal responsible authorities will retain final decision-making responsibilities, and will exercise them based on the provincial environmental assessment report. Projects may be approved, even if they are likely to cause “significant adverse environmental effects that can be justified in the circumstances”.

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