Introduction

On October 24, 2013 the federal Minister of Environment finalized amendments to the Regulations Designating Physical Activities (the “Regulations”).  These regulations set out the physical activities that are considered “designated projects” under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 (CEAA 2012).

The list of designated projects is provided in a schedule to the Regulations organized according to the agency that is the responsible authority for the project. The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, National Energy Board and other regulatory authorities, as designated by the Governor in Council by regulation, are responsible authorities.  Under CEAA 2012, designated projects linked in the Regulations to responsible authorities require an environmental assessment.  Proponents of designated projects linked in the Regulations to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency must submit a project description to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.  The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency will then complete a screening of the project to determine whether an environmental assessment is required. Under CEAA 2012, the Minister of the Environment may order an assessment for any project not included in the list of designated projects if carrying out of the physical activity may cause adverse environmental effects or if public concerns relating to those effects warrant the designation.

Brief summary of the changes

Many of the changes made to the Regulations have clarified whether an entry on the list of designated projects applies to new or existing projects; however, there are also some substantive changes.  The amendments have changed a number of the thresholds at which activities are considered designated projects.  For example, with the exception of dams and dykes, expansions are now considered designated projects when the expansion is 50% or more in size and meets specific thresholds.  For many industries this has changed the threshold for expansion projects that trigger a designation from 35% to 50%.  In addition, the proposed expansion of a mine will now be measured by the increase in area of mine operations rather than the increase in production capacity.  

There are also a number of deletions and additions to the list of designated projects. Thresholds have been developed and added to the designated projects list for the following physical activities:

  • Diamond mines;
  • Rare element mines;
  • Apatite mines;
  • Railway yards; 
  • Interprovincial bridges and tunnels;
  • Bridges that cross the St. Lawrence Seaway;
  • Offshore exploratory wells in the first drilling program within Exploration Licence areas; and
  • Expansions to oil sands mines.  

The following facilities have been deleted from the designated projects list unless they are located in a wildlife area or migratory bird sanctuary:

  • Groundwater extraction facilities;
  • Heavy oil and oil sands processing facilities;
  • Onshore pipelines and electrical transmission lines that are not regulated by the NEB;
  • Industrial mineral mines such as salt, graphite, gypsum, magnesite, limestone, clay and asbestos; and
  • Industrial facilities including pulp and paper mills, steel mills, metal smelters, leather tanneries, textile mills and facilities for the manufacture of chemicals, pharmaceuticals, pressure-treated wood, particle board, plywood, chemical explosives, lead-acid batteries and respirable mineral fibres.

Click here to view a table summarizing the changes made in the schedule to the Regulations by topic.