On February 29, 2016, British Columbia’s Environment Minister announced proposed amendments to the B.C. Environmental Management Act (EMA). Bill 21 – Environmental Management Amendment Act, 2016 received first reading in the Legislative Assembly the same day. Many of the specific details relating to the changes will be released later in updated regulations issued under the amended EMA.

The amendments follow more than three years of consultation with government, industry, First Nations, environmental organizations, and other groups. While the amendments are not expected to come into force until early 2017, the Minister offered some hints as to what can be expected in the new statute and regulations, including:

  • Requirements for implementing spill prevention plans, contingency plans, response systems, and recovery;
  • Added requirements to provide restoration and reclamation following a spill;
  • The certification of an organization that provides spill preparedness and response services in B.C.; and
  • New offences and penalties, including fines ranging between $300,000 and $400,000 and jail terms of up to six months.

The Minister stated that these amendments will assist companies in meeting one of the five conditions necessary to obtain B.C.’s support for heavy oil pipelines, which apply to the Trans Mountain and Northern Gateway pipeline projects. These five conditions are: (1) successful completion of the environmental review process; (2) world-leading marine oil spill response, prevention and recovery; (3) world-leading land oil spill response, prevention, and recovery; (4) meeting the legal requirements of Aboriginal and treaty rights and providing First Nations with opportunities to participate; and (5) economic benefit to B.C. It is expected that compliance with the amended EMA will satisfy the third requirement of establishing a world-leading land spill preparedness and response regime.