On February 25, 2015, the Quebec Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment and the Fight against Climate Change David Heurtel, announced a proposal to modernize the current environmental authorization regime provided for in the Environment Quality Act (EQA). The Minister stated that the process needed to be more clear, more efficient and predictable. The modernization of the EQA and the simplification of the environmental authorization process follow similar efforts undertaken in Ontario a few years ago.
CURRENT AUTHORIZATION REGIME UNDER THE EQA
Section 22 of the EQA provides for a preventive regime that requires prior approval from the Ministry of Sustainable Development, Environment and the Fight against Climate Change (MSDEF) for certain projects or activities that may impact the quality of the environment. According to the MSDEF, over 5,000 ministerial authorizations are granted each year.This provision has not undergone major modifications since its adoption in 1972. New environmental challenges and increased administrative requirements as part of the approval process over the years have prompted the MSDEF to conduct the current review.
The main objectives of the new approach are to:
- Make adjustments to the authorization regime based on environmental risk and focus most of the MSDEF’s efforts on projects with significant environmental impacts
- Take into consideration the Quebec greenhouse gas emissions reduction target of 20% in the approval process
- Optimize the approval process to increase efficiency and reduce processing delays (which can extend over several months in some cases)
- Promote rigor, coherence, consistency and information sharing in the process of analyzing requests for authorization
OVERVIEW OF MODERNIZATION EFFORT
The MSDEF proposes to change the authorization process so that the degree of assessment will vary based on the environmental risk according to four categories of activity: high risk, moderate risk, low risk and negligible risk. Changes are anticipated to the environmental impact assessment process and for high-risk projects, including to the BAPE process (the province’s public hearings’ bureau). With respect to low-risk and negligible risk activities, the process will be simplified and clarified.
The new regime also aims to reduce the administrative burden associated with obtaining an authorization and to decrease delays for the issuance of certificates of authorization, in addition to promoting transparency, public participation and access to information.The current process for transferring an environmental authorization when an asset sale occurs may also be streamlined. The current process requires that the MSDEF’s consent to transfer be obtained and can take an average of two to three months.
The Minister’s announcement was well received by industry, which in the past has been frustrated by the lack of clarity, predictability and efficiency of the approval process as well as the sometimes prohibitive delays encountered and the inconsistent application of the regime in different regions of the province. Industry players hope that modernization of the authorization regime could lead to the implementation of a single window approach for obtaining permits and certificates of authorization for major projects.
NEXT STEPS OF MODERNIZATION PROCESS
Targeted consultations with environmental, institutional and economic organizations are scheduled for March and April 2015. A consultation document (green paper) will be tabled at the National Assembly this spring, followed by special consultations before a legislative committee. It is planned that a bill will be presented to the National Assembly in the fall of 2015, and the implementation of the new environmental authorizations regime is expected in 2016.