Beginning October 31, 2011, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment’s (the MOE) new online environmental approval application and self-registration system takes effect. As part of the MOE’s new risk-based approach for processing requests for environmental approvals, the new approvals system will focus on the potential risk that the activity in question poses to the environment and to human health.

An Environmental Compliance Approval (ECA) will replace a Certificate of Approval (C of A). Complex or higher-risk activities will follow the new ECA application process, while standardized or lower-risk activities will follow the Environmental Activity and Sector Registry (the EASR) registration process.

Who will be affected by the new approvals system?

The new approvals system applies to all businesses that require an environmental approval to operate lawfully in Ontario. Approvals are required by any facility that performs one or more of the following activities:

  • releases emissions into the atmosphere;  
  • discharges contaminants into groundwater or surface water; or  
  • stores, transports or disposes of waste.

What activities can proceed using the new EASR process?

Currently, only automotive spray paint shops, comfort heating operators and standby (emergency) power providers are permitted to use the EASR process. However, it is expected that more activities will be permitted by regulation to proceed through the EASR process. All other activities must proceed through an ECA application.

How will the new approvals system be implemented by the MOE?

The new approvals system will be implemented over the next two years. During that time, the MOE has indicated that it will work closely with stakeholders to build the new system. At the moment, the MOE has not announced how businesses can identify themselves as stakeholders and how stakeholders will be involved in the implementation process.

What happens to applications that are submitted before October 31, 2011?

Applications submitted before October 31, 2011 are valid and will be considered for approval. If the application is approved before October 31, 2011, a C of A will be issued. If the application is approved after October 31, 2011, an ECA will be issued for those activities not eligible for an EASR and EASR-eligible activities will have to be registered in the EASR.

Does a site with multiple processes need multiple approval applications?

If the application is made and the approval is issued before October 31, 2011, a C of A will be issued for the site. However, if a decision is not made before October 31, 2011, then the portion of the application dealing with the EASR-eligible activity will be discontinued and the eligible activity will have to be registered separately in the EASR.

An application can also be made to the MOE for an order stating that the EASR process does not apply to a specific activity at your site. This approach will have advantages and disadvantages, depending on the particular situation or activity.

If you do not have an existing C of A, an order exempting an activity from the EASR process requires you to apply for an ECA for the eligible activity instead of registering.

What happens to existing Certificates of Approval under the new approvals system?

All existing C of A’s and their conditions will continue. If an existing approval includes an EASR-eligible activity, the approval is still valid and the activity will not need to be registered in the EASR unless:

  • the conditions for the existing C of A are modified; or  
  • the existing C of A expires (for automotive spray paint shops, comfort heating operators and standby power systems, the expiry date for existing C of A’s is October 31, 2016).

If there is an existing C of A and an order exempting an activity from the EASR process is issued, the existing C of A continues to be valid.