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The Ministry of the Environment’s Modernization of Approvals process is starting to make a real difference: kudos to Marcia Wallace, Doris Dumais and the others involved. It still takes far too long to get many kinds of Environmental Compliance Approvals (often well over a year), but the backlog is decreasing, and some upcoming changes should really help. This is essential: the inordinate delays in obtaining approvals force many organizations to incur significant economic damage or break the law, every year. The more law-abiding organizations are, the more stressful they find these long approvals delays, and the more they detract from potential investment in Ontario.

About 2400 registrations have already occurred on the Environmental Activities and Sector Registry, the instant, permit-by-rule system for low risk, routine activities. (The registry has the additional benefit of creating a level playing field, by assuring consistent conditions for similar activities.) Not coincidentally, the number of annual applications for environmental compliance approvals has dropped by more than 2,000. The shift should continue as additional activities and sectors are added to the registry.

Now the Modernization process is shifting to the full scale Environmental Compliance Approvals. The MOE is already doing more to clarify what information is required in a good application for an Environmental Compliance Approval- a guide and technical checklist are available on line. By next spring, the entire application is expected to be filed online. This should automatically reject incomplete applications, and provide real-time tracking of all accepted applications; both should drive down wait times. On line applications should also improve public access to approvals and their supporting documents. Once the system works, of course; so far, IT challenges have created a barrage of headaches, including a brief “$10 Tuesday”, when all EASR registrations could be had for the bargain price of $10. That particular bug was fixed fast…

We hear that the Modernization of Approvals process is starting to trigger transformation across the ministry, and that other ministries are also looking to piggyback on the system. Morale among the review engineers is reportedly improving too, now that they are released from reviewing so many boring, routine applications, and from the tedious job of tracking down missing components from poor quality applications. Instead, they are spending more of their time using their technical skills on more challenging applications where a knowledgeable reviewer can make a difference.

I sometimes joke that I’d be out of business if the MOE were always fair and efficient, and we’ve never been busier. But the Modernization process is looking like a big step in the right direction. And that’s good news for anyone who cares about the environment that the MOE tries to protect. Including me.

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