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The latest draft Approvals Reform regulations are another small step in the right direction.  Clarifying and simplifying the requirements for routine, low impact activities, and reducing regulatory delay, is increasingly important if Ontario is to successfully compete for investment money and jobs.  Using the Environmental Activity and Sector Registry (EASR) process (a type of permit by rule) for routine activities should also free up much needed resources for the quicker processing of Environmental Compliance Approvals for more complex and innovative activities, which continue to suffer damaging delays.

Small Ground-Mounted Solar projects; Lithographic, Screen and Digital Printing; and Non-Hazardous Waste Transportation Systems are appropriate, if narrow, sectors for an EASR approach. In our experience, the Certificates of Approval that have been granted for these activities have generally been routine and repetitious. Where differences have occurred between one approval and another, these differences have often created challenges to a level playing field between competitors, rather than providing a safe and equitable level of environmental protection to the public. Thus, moving from individualized approvals to an EASR system will both avoid delay and provide a more level playing field for proponents and their customers. Uniform approval conditions should also be easier to enforce.

In our experience, the proposed EASR standards are more stringent than the majority of existing approvals for non-hazardous waste hauling and printing. Thus, moving from individualized approvals to an EASR system will often increase the environmental standards required of proponents. If enforced, these higher EASR requirements should therefore increase the level of environmental protection provided to the public. Proponents are likely willing to pay the increased costs to get quick, automatic registration, given the long and unpredictable delays of the current process.

In future, the EASR process should also make it much easier for the MOE to increase regulatory standards across each sector as a whole, rather than waiting for individual proponents to seek amendments so that up to date conditions may be added to their approvals.

The biggest drawback with the draft EASR regulations is how narrow they are. For example, the new Waste Hauler regulation will apply to only a fraction of existing waste haulers. Ineligible will be anyone who handles any hazardous waste, or the most innocuous of liquid industrial wastes.  Also ineligible will be waste processing, such as on-truck processing of PCB waste; or waste storage, such as storage of hauled sewage, or waste disposal, such as land application of organics.

The tighter the EASR regulations are focussed, the fewer operations they will apply to, and the less benefit they will provide. Presumably the MOE has decided to be cautious in the first years of a new regulatory approach. It’s probably better to be successful, in a slow, non-controversial way, than to go quickly and risk a public failure.

Comments are due by September 8.

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