October 2020 Bulletin

Environmental Assessment is Not Red Tape

Earlier this summer, the Ontario government passed omnibus Bill 197, which contains a number of controversial amendments to the Environmental Assessment Act (EAA). CELA concluded that many of the changes are unjustified, regressive in nature, and do not implement the long overdue improvements that are needed within the environmental assessment program.

Environmental assessment is the “look before you leap” planning law that assesses the ecological, socio-economic and cultural implications of a proposed project.

The environmental assessment process can often highlight issues that may not have been anticipated in the original design, and can even save municipalities, the province or other public sector agencies from costly mega-project mistakes. In short, environmental assessment is the best way to take account of cumulative impacts.

By weakening environmental assessment rules, many projects will lose the value of good public input and consultation. Not having rigorous requirements to consider the need for a project, as well as alternative designs, can result in over-spending, over-building, and unanticipated impacts.

Rolling back environmental assessment regulations will result in more development sprawl and the associated consumption of land. We will see higher infrastructure costs to service a wider area, loss of agricultural land, and even more loss of wetlands and forests, which will in turn reduce our climate resilience and deepen the crisis of biodiversity loss.

These impacts will be heightened for vulnerable communities whose housing is less resilient and often located in areas more impacted by climate issues, and because poverty often exacerbates environmental health impacts.

Development sprawl is inherently inequitable, making housing and transportation more expensive, public transit more time consuming, access to green space and outdoor amenities difficult to reach, and often pushing the higher density housing to historically contaminated lands. It also means that for communities continuing to live with the long-term environment and health effects accompanying industrial developments, decisions to site new projects like smelters or expand existing mines would not be subject to public review and expert study.

CELA recently hosted a webinar that provided an overview of the key changes to environmental assessment proposed under Bill 197. The session also discussed the proposed Environmental Assessment project list regulation, urging attendees to visit the EBR registry and submit their comments by November 10.

Updates regarding the proposed project list, as well as CELA’s current legal challenge against Bill 197, can be found on the casework page of our website.

Ron Strickland (left) and Doris Kelly-Capyk (middle) of POWR MAG (Protectors of Wetlands & River Magnetawan) Inc. recently presented CELA lawyer Rick Lindgren with a financial donation to CELA’s client litigation fund. We have represented POWR MAG for several years in its successful opposition to a proposed quarry, and CELA thanks the group and its members for their generous donation.

Small Nuclear Reactors are a Dirty, Dangerous Distraction and Delay Real Climate Action

CELA recently joined more than 25 public interest groups from across Canada in criticizing the federal government for funding small nuclear reactor development, and challenging the government to release the research and data that support its strategy.

This action built on concerns expressed to Primer Minister Trudeau and Natural Resources Minister O’Regan in advance of the Throne Speech, advising the federal government that “small” nuclear reactors would be a nightmare for Canada’s Northern and First Nations communities; not a solution to climate change as has been purported.

CELA lawyer Kerrie Blaise was a featured speaker in a recent webinar “Debunking the Myths of Small Modular Reactors”, jointly hosted by Beyond Nuclear, the Coalition for Responsible Energy Development in New Brunswick and CELA. The webinar discussed why small modular reactors (SMRs) are not needed and are not economical, safe or proliferation proof. It also highlighted gaps in Canadian nuclear laws, which allow most SMRs to escape review under federal environmental assessment legislation.

Photo Credit – Theresa McClenaghan

The Open Secret of Muskrat Lake

Every once in a while, the public alerts CELA to an environmental issue of which we were not aware. The extraordinary situation of Muskrat Lake in Renfrew County is one such example.

In a recent blog post, CELA Counsel Amanda Montgomery explains why residents of the Village of Cobden, who get their drinking water from Muskrat Lake, don’t have the same source water protections as many Ontario residents.

Friends of Simcoe Forests Files Court Challenge

The Friends of Simcoe Forest Inc. (FSF) filed an application for judicial review earlier this month, seeking to overturn a decision by the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT). The LPAT struck out certain issues in FSF’s Issues List, including issues related to the applicability of the 2019 Growth Plan, which is central to FSF’s appeal. FSF asserts that the LPAT’s decision was unreasonable as it relied on a Transition Regulation that was invalidly enacted by the Minster of Municipal Affairs and Housing. FSF is also challenging the Minister’s jurisdiction to enact the Transitional Regulation. Read the history of this case on CELA’s website.

Reducing Plastic Waste

In a recent letter to the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change, CELA urged strong measures on plastic waste management. The letter asked the federal government to ratify the Basel Convention Plastic Waste Amendments, to release Canada’s National Strategy on Plastics, including a ban on “harmful single-use plastics”, and to regulate plastic wasted under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.

CELA also recently released a joint statement from environmental and civil society groups in response to Ontario’s draft Blue Box regulation announcement.

Photo Credit – Linda Pim

Douglas Point Licence Hearing Update

CELA, jointly representing the Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area, Nuclear Waste Watch and Northwatch has submitted a request to intervene in the Douglas Point Waste Facility hearing before Canada’s nuclear regulator.

Canadian Nuclear Laboratories has asked the regulator for permission to start decommissioning earlier than planned – as much as 40 years – meaning there will be increased risk of radiological exposure to workers and the environment, and more waste transfers for “interim” storage to Chalk River. CELA is urging the regulator to send the application back to the proponent until a more detailed review of potential adverse environmental and health impacts accompanying the decommissioning of the former reactor site on the shores of Lake Huron has been undertaken.

CELA will appear remotely before the regulator on Nov 25-26 to question the rationale for this drastic change in decommissioning plans. The hearing will be webcasted live.

Virtual Opportunities

New Series! Changes to CEPA to Protect Vulnerable Populations

In this webinar series, CELA will explore how the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA), our country’s main environmental legislation used to evaluate and manage substances, can be strengthened to protect vulnerable communities from hazardous chemicals. Three sessions will be held from 1:00pm-2:15pm on Thursdays in November – Nov 5, Nov 12, and Nov 26. Registration is required; please check our website for more information.
Public Legal Education
CELA’s Executive Director delivered public legal education sessions to a variety of audiences in October; a primer on drivers behind the water laws we benefit from in Ontario to the University of Waterloo Collaborative Water Program; an overview of priorities for action, especially on issues of equity, to the Ontario Climate Caucus of the Clean Air Partnership; and a primer on water law in Ontario to the Chiefs of the Algonquins of Ontario.

Photo Credit – Theresa McClenaghan

Environmental Assessment is Not Red Tape – Recording Available

CELA lawyers Rick Lindgren and Kerrie Blaise presented a webinar on October 22, providing an overview of recent sweeping changes made to environmental assessment (EA) law in Ontario and the proposed EA project list regulation posted on the EBR Registry for public comment. The recording of this session, and the presenters slide decks, are now available.

Water & Health Webinar Series – Recordings Available

CELA recently hosted a two-part webinar series in partnership with the Ontario Nurses for the Environment Interest Group. The sessions looked at the Indigenous relationship to water with presenter Rachel Arsenault, and the Walkerton drinking water tragedy and inquiry with presenters Theresa McClenaghan and Bruce Davidson. The recordings are available on our website.

Value of Investing in Water Quality – Recording Available

Presenters John Hartig and Gail Krantzberg spoke to local decision-makers in the Severn Sound watershed about the value of continuing to invest in water quality after a Great Lakes Area of Concern (designated under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement between the US and Canada) has been delisted. Their presentation and slide deck are available on our website. If you are interested in a similar session for your community, please contact April Weppler.