The Impact Assessment Act and How it Will Affect Your Project

Author(s): M. Winfield-Lesk

What Is It?

The Government of Canada introduced the Impact Assessment Act (IAA) as part of Bill C69 which came into force on August 28, 2019. The IAA aimed to foster sustainability in major projects to protect the components of the environment, and the health, social and economic conditions. The stated objectives of the IAA include the consideration of science, evidence, and Indigenous knowledge in all impact assessments of major projects. The enactment of the IAA repealed the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act 2012 (CEAA 2012).

What’s Changed?

Addition of an Early Planning Phase: The IAA introduces an Early Planning phase. The Early Planning phase seeks to enhance early engagement opportunities with the public and the Indigenous peoples to achieve the guiding principle of “One Project—One Assessment”. This phase entails the preparation of an initial description of the proposed project prior to completion of a detailed project description. The initial description would allow the Agency to determine whether the proposed project is a designated project under the IAA.

Change in Legislated Timeline: The addition of an Early Planning phase adds up to a maximum of 180 days onto project timelines, however, Impact assessments led by the agency have been limited to a maximum of 300 days, with integrated and review panel Impact Assessments limited to a maximum of 600 days, which is reduced from 365 and 720 days, respectively.

Who can Conduct IA’s: The New Act expands the definition of jurisdictions under the New Act to include Indigenous governing bodies. The IAA allows the Agency to enter into agreements with Indigenous governing bodies to authorize that body to exercise powers or perform duties related to the impact assessment.

Within the government, the responsibility rests with only one body, but the same two basic processes (i.e. a “standard” versus review panel EA) remain unchanged. Specifically, the Impact Assessment Agency has the sole responsibility to conduct assessments in contrast to the Former Act which entitled 3 different agencies the responsibility for conducting environmental assessments.

In the event an impact assessment is required for a project regulated under the Nuclear Safety Control Act or the Energy Regulator Act, the Minister must refer the project assessment to a review panel (i.e. the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission or the proposed Canadian Energy Regulator).

Increased Indigenous Consultation: A key objective of the Agency is to engage in consultation with Indigenous peoples on various policy issues that are applicable to the IAA. As part of this objective, the Agency may establish a research or advisory body with respect to the interests or concerns of the Indigenous peoples and the Agency must also establish a committee to advise on issues related to impact assessments. Both parties must include at least one Indigenous person to voice the interests and concerns of Indigenous peoples.

Project List Changes: While the project list maintains many of the existing categories and requirements under the CEAA 2012, the list also has included some changes to thresholds and projects. Notably, the thresholds requiring federal EAs for mining projects have increased, and in-situ oil sands facilities will also require an EA unless they are within a legislated hard cap on emissions. Wind power projects with 10 or more wind turbines will now also require an EA.

Shift from Environmental to Impact Assessment: The scope of factors considered under the IAA has expanded. Assessments must now consider health, social and economic factors in addition to environmental effects. Unlike the former act, positive effects can be now considered alongside adverse effects. Some notable factors (as outlined in subsection 22(1)) include:

  • Changes to the environment or to health, social or economic conditions and the positive and negative consequences of these changes that are likely to be caused by carrying out a designated project
  • Indigenous knowledge provided with respect to the project
  • The extent to which the project contributes to sustainability;
  • The extent to which the effects of the designated project hinder or contribute to the Government of Canada’s ability to meet its environmental obligations and its commitments in respect of climate change
  • Any change to the designated project that may be caused by the environment
  • Community knowledge provided with respect to the designated project

Shifts in Decision-making: The IAA will base decisions on the ‘public interest’, as outlined in subsection 63 rather than focusing only on adverse environmental effects. Specifically, decision-makers must consider how the project contributes to sustainability, whether the effects of the project hinder or contribute to the government’s commitments with respect to climate change, potential impacts to Indigenous groups, and the severity of adverse impacts. In addition, all decision statements must include an expiry date.

Ability to Amend Decision Statements: The enactment of the IAA will now allow the Minister to amend decision statements. Amendments to decision statements can include adding, removing or altering previous attached conditions.

How Will This Affect my Project?

Transitional Provisions: If you submitted a project description for screening and the former Agency has posted a notice with respect to your project, that project description will be deemed an initial project description under subsection 10(1) of the IAA. If your screening has not received a notice from the former agency before the IAA comes into force, it will be terminated, and you will have to resubmit. If you have already commenced an Environmental Assessment under CEAA 2012 before the IAA comes into force, the assessment will be continued under the regulations of the CEAA 2012.

If the former Agency requested information or studies in respect for an EA commenced under CEAA 2012, this information must be provided within 3 years of the day the IAA comes into force, unless an extension is granted by the agency. If the deadline passes and no extension has been granted, an EA under the CEAA 2012 will be terminated.

New Projects: As of August 28, 2019, the CEAA 2012 has been repealed and replaced by the IAA. Any new projects slated to begin an assessment process past August 28, 2019 will now follow the regulations of the IAA.