Environmental Assessment program getting an overhaul after 50 years

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Ontario Construction News staff writer

Ontario is taking the next steps to modernize the almost 50-year-old environmental assessment program by working with holders of Class Environmental Assessments (Class EA) to design changes that would exempt projects that have little or no negative environmental impact.

Jeff Yurek, Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks made the announcement last Thursday at the Niagara-on-the-Lake Ontario Power Generation plant.

“We are looking to Class EA holders, like the Ontario Waterpower Association, to propose sensible, practical changes that would ensure strong environmental oversight while reducing delays on projects that matter most to Ontario communities,” said Yurek. “This is an example of how our government is looking at smarter, more modern ways of doing business to remove unnecessary costs and delays for important public services and infrastructure projects.”

For example, a company like Ontario Power Generation must complete an environmental assessment when they replace an old generator. This assessment can take over a year to complete and cost up to $100,000 before the project can begin.

“This proposal would help Ontario Power Generation save significantly in costs and offers a real opportunity to achieve effective and practical improvements to the current environmental assessment process for low-impact projects,” said Jessica Polak, vice president of operations, Ontario Power Generation.

“The proposed changes would allow us to continue doing what we do best – provide clean, safe, reliable, low-cost power to the people of Ontario.”

“I am very pleased the government is working with us on proposed actions to improve the province’s environmental assessment process and eliminate delays for low-impact projects,” said Paul Norris. “I am confident the result will be real and positive benefits for communities and for the environment.”

Projects that meet the screening eligibility criteria would be required to notify the public, Indigenous communities and government agencies when they start the screening process and complete an assessment of potential environmental concerns.

The proposed amendments to the Ontario Waterpower Association’s Class Environmental Assessment will be posted in February for public review and comment.

In June 2019, the government amended the Environmental Assessment Act to exempt low-impact projects such as snow plowing and de-icing, constructing roadside parks, and adding bike lanes from requiring an environmental assessment. Projects like this are routine activities that have benefits to communities but little to no environmental impact.

The Ontario Waterpower Association’s Class EA for water power projects sets out a standard planning process for the 224 waterpower facilities across the province.

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