On February 25, 2015, the Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment and the Fight against Climate Change ("Minister") announced his intention to thoroughly modernize the environmental authorization process under the Environment Quality Act ("EQA") (communiqué available in French only). A green paper is expected to be tabled at the National Assembly in spring 2015 in order to modernize the legal framework for environmental authorizations in Québec, which has been in place for more than 40 years.
What are the objectives of this exercise? How does the Minister intend to proceed? What can we expect of the new process?
Objectives of the modernization of the authorization process
Since the adoption of the EQA in 1972, a succession of legislative amendments has made the process of issuing environmental authorizations more cumbersome. In view of this situation, the Minister intends to modernize the authorization process to make it more coherent, more predictable and less complicated, both for applicants and for the Ministère.
The objectives of the modernization are as follows:
- Integrate the fight against climate change in the authorization process.
- Focus efforts on projects that have major impacts on the environment.
- Simplify and clarify the processing of applications for projects that have little environmental impact, without reducing the environmental requirements applicable to such projects.
- Simplify and clarify the authorization process to increase the Ministère's efficiency.
In light of the objectives set out by the Minister, the basic thrust of the proposed modernization should be to simplify the current tools. This exercise is part of a global government initiative to streamline the actual regulatory and administrative processes.
Key aspects of the modernization of the authorization process
We would like to draw your attention to the following guidelines announced by the Minister:
- Integrate the fight against climate change in the authorization process and take into account the 20% reduction target for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and the measures provided in the Action Plan on Climate Change (APCC).
- Better integrate the 16 principles provided in the Sustainable Development Act in the authorization process.
- Adjust the authorization process according to the environmental risk, by ranking projects into four categories: high-risk activities, moderate-risk activities, low-risk activities, and negligible-risk activities.
- Recommend possible improvements to the environmental impact assessment and review process (including the BAPE) for high-risk projects and simplify the process for low-risk activities.
- Optimize the authorization process to reduce delays.
- Increase response capacity in the occurrence of exceptional situations.
- Improve access to information, citizen participation, and transparency.
- Implement a formal strategic environmental assessment (SEA) process in the EQA.
Over the next few months, the Minister intends to hold special consultations with environmental, institutional and economic organizations.
The Minister announced that at the end of these consultations, a green paper setting out the proposed amendments should be tabled at the National Assembly by spring 2015. According to the results obtained following the tabling, the green paper should then be the subject of special consultations in Parliamentary Committee. The tabling of a bill would follow in fall 2015. Specifically, the purpose of the bill will be to amend the EQA's provisions regarding the environmental authorization process, with a view to promoting Québec's economic and social development, while effectively protecting the environment.
According to the proposed timetable, the new environmental authorization process should be in place sometime in 2016.
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What about compensation measures for carrying out projects affecting wetlands or bodies of water?
The Minister also announced that the Act Respecting Compensation Measures for the Carrying out of Projects Affecting Wetlands or Bodies of Water could be extended for three years. This announcement comes a few weeks before April 24, 2015, date on which this Act was to cease to have effect, and can be explained by, among other things, the need to first amend the environmental authorization process under the EQA. The Minister said that "closer consultation with our partners seems necessary" before moving forward with an amendment of this Act.