Bill C-9, the omnibus budget bill, includes provisions to amend numerous federal statutes including the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA). Enacted in 1992, CEAA requires environmental assessment (EA) of projects or activities which may cause significant adverse environmental effects. The amendments to CEAA will reduce the scope of federal EAs quite significantly:
- The Infrastructure Projects Environmental Assessment Adaptation Regulations made in 2009 to exempt “routine” public infrastructure projects from EA is repealed and the exemptions are now made permanent through section 7.1(2) of the Act. Discretion is now given to the Minister of the Environment to require a public infrastructure project to undergo EA if he or she determines it may cause significant adverse environmental effects (section 7.1(3)).
- The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency will perform comprehensive federal EAs instead of other federal departments unless the responsible authority is either the National Energy Board or the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (section 11.01(1)).
- The Minister of the Environment will have authority to “scope” federal EAs so as to limit an EA to one or more components of a project (section 15.1(1)). This provision essentially overturns the Supreme Court of Canada decision in MiningWatch Canada v. Canada (Fisheries and Oceans) where the Court held that responsible authorities do not have statutory authority to reduce the scope of the project to less than what was proposed by the proponent.
The changes to the Act were heavily criticised by the environmental community who argued that it is undemocratic to make fundamental changes to the EA legislation through the budget process. Environmentalists argued that changes to EA law should be publicly debated at the House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development. The Bill passed third reading on June 8, 2010.