The Government of Ontario is taking the next steps to modernize its almost 50-year-old environmental assessment program by working with holders of Class Environmental Assessments (Class EA) to propose changes that would exempt projects that have little or no negative environmental impact.
A class environmental assessment is a document that sets out a standardized planning process for classes or groups of activities. It applies to projects that are carried out routinely and have predictable environmental effects that can be readily managed.
Jeff Yurek, Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks, was at the Niagara-on-the-Lake Ontario Power Generation plant yesterday with Paul Norris, president of Ontario Waterpower Association, and Jessica Polak, vice president of operations of Ontario Power Generation, to announce a proposal to create a screening process that would exempt low-impact waterpower projects.
“We are looking to Class EA holders, like the Ontario Waterpower Association, to propose sensible, practical changes that would ensure strong environmental oversight while reducing delays on projects that matter most to Ontario communities,” said Yurek. “This is an example of how our government is looking at smarter, more modern ways of doing business to remove unnecessary costs and delays for important public services and infrastructure projects.”
For example, a company like Ontario Power Generation must complete an environmental assessment when they replace an old generator. This assessment can take over a year to complete and cost up to $100,000 before the project can begin.
“I am very pleased the government is working with us on proposed actions to improve the province’s environmental assessment process and eliminate delays for low-impact projects,” said Norris. “I am confident the result will be real and positive benefits for communities and for the environment.”
Projects that meet the screening eligibility criteria would be required to notify the public, Indigenous communities and government agencies when they start the screening process and complete an assessment of potential environmental concerns.
The proposed amendments to the Ontario Waterpower Association’s Class Environmental Assessment will be posted in February for public review and comment.
In June 2019, the government amended the Environmental Assessment Act to exempt low-impact projects such as snow plowing and de-icing, constructing roadside parks, and adding bike lanes from requiring an environmental assessment. Projects like this are routine activities that have benefits to communities but little to no environmental impact.
The Ontario Waterpower Association’s Class EA for Waterpower Projects sets out a standard planning process for the 224 waterpower facilities across the province.
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Featured image of Niagara Falls by Micah Giszack.