Environmental approvals in Ontario are still too slow, too
opaque, and too hostile to innovative technologies. In 2007, the
Environmental Commissioner noted that our cumbersome environmental
approval process was hurting both the economy and our environment;
business has been complaining about this for years. Finally,
Ontario is going to do something about it.
The basic elements of the Framework should not be controversial,
and are likely to have strong business support, although some of
the details will cause concern. Fundamentally, the Framework will
set different rules for low risk activities than for high-risk
ones, starting in late 2012. All existing approvals will eventually
be transitioned into the new system.
For Low Risk Activities: Permit by rule
Ontario now issues about 6000 environmental permits a year, for
everything from huge factories and major landfills to minor
upgrades in a restaurant kitchen exhaust. Many, perhaps half of
these, are for low risk, routine, predictable activities where
individualized Ministry review provides little benefit. These
activities would cease to require air, water, and waste
certificates of approval.
Instead, the organization would "register" all its
lower risk activities on a public website. The registration would
include key details about each activity, depending on its perceived
risk; most of these details would be available to the public.
Technical documents may have to be submitted, certified by a person
with relevant technical knowledge.
An "accountable person", the highest-ranking employee
at the facility with management responsibilities, would have to
periodically declare that the registration is accurate and
complete, and would be responsible for ensuring that the
organization complies with it.
Registration would be effective immediately, and would trigger
the application of standard rules. The organization may be required
to pay fees, file financial assurance, file reports, ensure
training, operate within defined parameters, monitor emissions,
etc. — all the terms that can now be imposed as a
condition of a certificate of approval.
For High Risk Activities: certificates of approval that are
more demanding and more public
Higher risk activities will still need individual certificates
of approval. However, these approvals will be site-wide and
multimedia, covering air, waste, and water in a single approval. In
some cases, multiple sites will be covered by a single approval.
These approvals may allow operational flexibility, as in a current
"comprehensive approval", but may have mandatory periodic
updates. Under today's system, some old approvals can continue
in effect for decades without review.
Proposed regulations would set mandatory submission and quality
requirements, since the Ministry now receives a large number of
poor quality or incomplete applications. There would be an
incentive to file applications online; for example, they may
benefit from quicker service guarantees, promises to process the
application within a specified time.
Applications will have to be signed off, both by an appropriate
technical expert, and by the applicant's "accountable
person". Most portions of an application, and of the resulting
approval, will be accessible to the public.
For most businesses that need new or amended approvals, these
changes probably cannot come quickly enough. But the transition
period could be painful. Comments can be submitted until April
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guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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