Canada: Quebec Government Proposes Significant Amendments To Environmental Approval Regime In Quebec

On June 7, 2016, Quebec's Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment and the Fight against Climate Change, David Heurtel, tabled Bill 102 (Bill), which proposes to significantly amend the Environment Quality Act (EQA), including modernizing the environmental approval regime. The Bill follows the publication of a green paper by the minister in the winter of 2015 and public hearings held before the National Assembly. For further information on the green paper, please see our February 2015 Blakes Bulletin: Quebec Environment Minister Aims to Modernize Environmental Approval Process.

This bulletin provides a brief overview of some of the key modifications proposed by the Bill. A more detailed analysis of the amendments will be the subject of a further bulletin.  

Approval based on classification of environmental risk — The Bill aims to simplify the environmental approval process by classifying projects according to four categories of environmental risk: high, moderate, low and negligible risk. Activities considered to be of low risk and negligible risk will be set out in a regulation. High-risk projects will continue to be subject to the environmental assessment and review procedure and moderate-risk projects will remain subject to the obligation to obtain a ministerial authorization. For low-risk activities, it is planned that the proponent will only be required to file a declaration of compliance with environmental laws and may begin its activities 30 days after filing a declaration, which would result in a reduction of delays for activities in this category. Finally, activities with negligible risk will be exempt from obtaining an authorization and any other filing.

Single type authorization for projects — A single type of ministerial authorization will be required for a given project, whereas currently, various types of authorizations may be required.

Environmental impact assessment procedure — The list of projects subject to the environmental impact assessment and review procedure will be reviewed. The government will also have the power, in exceptional circumstances, to subject projects to the environmental impact and review procedure that are not specifically listed, when such projects present major environmental risks, for instance with respect to climate change. This represents a significant change from the current regime, which is based on a closed list. The public will also have the opportunity to provide input early on in the project development process, including making submissions to the minister on issues that should be taken into account in the environmental impact study.

Transfer of authorizations — It will be possible to transfer environmental authorizations by providing prior notice to the ministry. Currently, ministry consent is required to assign certificates of authorization in the context of an asset transaction, which can take several weeks.

Access to information and transparency — The Bill plans to increase the transparency and accessibility of information that forms part of the environmental approval process. It is proposed that ministry-issued authorizations and the majority of documents incorporated by reference into the approval, as well as information on low-risk projects that require a compliance declaration will be made public in a registry accessible on the ministry's website. An environmental assessment registry will also be created, which will make information filed by a proponent public when the documents are filed with the ministry.

Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions — The Bill provides that a proponent of a project whose estimated GHG emissions exceed a set threshold will be required to show that its project is optimal from a GHG emission perspective and justify the technology selected, the processes and the sources of energy that will be used.

A more detailed bulletin on the amendments will be published shortly and a conference at our offices on the amendments will be announced.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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