On February 25, 2015, the Québec Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment and the Fight against Climate Change, Mr. David Heurtel, announced a significant reform in relation to the environmental authorization process set forth under the Québec Environment Quality Act (“EQA”).
Adopted in 1972, the EQA is the main environmental statute in the Province of Québec. While various aspects of this law have been modified since its inception, the authorization process has remained largely untouched in the last 30 years. The Minister is now proposing to reform this process through various measures:
- The Minister proposes to modulate the environmental authorization process based on the level of environmental risk associated with each project:
- Projects representing low and negligible environmental risks would be subject to a simplified process;
- The authorization process applicable to projects with moderate or high environmental risks will be reviewed in depth. The specific changes proposed in this regard have not yet been disclosed but may include modifications to the existing environmental impact assessment procedure and the BAPE public hearing process;
- The EQA will be amended to increase accountability on the part of the Ministry, in particular with respect to administrative delays associated with the issuance of environmental authorization;
- The cost of the environmental assessment process will be further internalized (which will presumably result in increased costs for the issuance of environmental authorizations);
- Additional measures will be proposed to expand disclosure of environmental information to the public; and
- Climate change issues and sustainable development principles would need to be considered specifically as part of the environmental authorization process.
In March and April 2015, the Minister will consult certain environmental, institutional and economic organizations to discuss the proposed reform, followed by the tabling of a policy document (green book) at the National Assembly in spring 2015. Consultations on this proposal are then likely to be held in parliamentary commission. The Minister intends to table a bill with the National Assembly in fall 2015, with the objective that the new environmental authorization process be effective in 2016.
In parallel, the minister also announced that the Act Respecting Compensation Measures for the Carrying out of Projects Affecting Wetlands or Bodies of Water, which is set to expire in April 2015, will be extended for another 3 years in order to continue consultations on this issue.
It remains to be seen whether the Minister will succeed in his efforts to modernize the EQA. If this announcement is indeed translated into law, the proposed reform could have a significant impact on both existing and future industrial, natural resources and energy projects in Québec. In this context, we strongly encourage interested parties to monitor and participate in the upcoming debates regarding the Minister’s proposed reform.
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