New regulations announced today will exempt high-carbon projects from receiving a federal impact assessment

Ottawa, Ont. – Today the government released its Physical Activities Regulations (also known as the ‘Project List’) which sets out the types of industrial and energy projects that must undergo federal review under the new Impact Assessment Act, a major component of Bill C-69.

“We are dismayed that today’s new regulations leave high carbon projects off the list of what needs to undergo a federal impact assessment. Exempting oil and gas projects from environmental review is like saying you’re going to study the environmental impacts of road vehicles and then giving a free pass to SUVs and transport trucks,” says Julia Levin, Climate and Energy Program Manager with Environmental Defence.

Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions are continuing to grow, largely because of growing emissions from the oil and gas industry, which account for over a quarter of the country’s emissions. Yet the Project List exempts some of the highest-carbon projects in the oil and gas sector, such as in-situ tar sands operations and unconventional gas production, commonly called fracking. Other large carbon emitting projects like cement plants are also left off of the list.

The project list does not include a greenhouse gas trigger to ensure that all high carbon projects receive federal review- something that environmental groups have been calling for. A trigger would have ensured fairness in Canada’s plan to take an economy-wide approach to reducing GHG emissions, by ensuring that any large carbon project – regardless of the sector – would receive an assessment.

For virtually every class of project – including pipelines, mines, coal mines, nuclear reactors, highways – the thresholds for the size of a project have increased in order to require review, meaning that only larger projects will be assessed under the new framework (longer pipelines, bigger mines, etc.). For example, to qualify for federal impact assessment, coal mines have to be 60 per cent larger than would have been captured under the previous regulations.

Impact assessments are a critical tool to meeting Canada’s climate commitments and should be used to ensure that proposed new activities are consistent with Canada’s climate goals. According to Levin, “the decisions we make today with regards to our energy infrastructure will have consequences for generations to come. The wrong decisions will lead to emissions being locked in for decades.”

Over the summer, the government fought hard to protect the integrity of the Impact Assessment Act, Canada’s new environmental assessment framework. Despite tireless lobbying by the fossil fuel industry, the government stood firm on their commitment to ensure that – for the first time – federal project reviews include the consideration of a project’s impact on Canada’s climate commitments. However, the regulations announced today mean that the framework will not apply to many high-carbon projects.

Despite requests from the environmental community for the rationale behind changing these thresholds and the analysis of environmental impacts of these new thresholds, no such rationale was provided.

The Physical Activities Regulations were included in the Canada Gazette, Part II.

About ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENCE (environmentaldefence.ca): Environmental Defence is a leading Canadian advocacy organization that works with government, industry, and individuals to defend clean water, a safe climate, and healthy communities.

Background information:

Letter sent by eight leading environmental organizations to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: https://environmentaldefence.ca/report/projectlist_openletter/

Letter from 27 environmental organizations and academics to Minister of Environment and Climate Change: https://environmentaldefence.ca/report/eccc_letter_c69/

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For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:
Barbara Hayes, Communications Manager, Environmental Defence, bhayes@environmentaldefence.ca