July 18, 2013 - The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency ("Agency") has released a new Operational Policy Statement ("OPS") that sets out the general requirements and approach to considering cumulative environmental effects under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 ("CEAA 2012"). The new OPS will assist project proponents with the preparation of their Environmental Impact Statements, as well as the Agency, interested parties, and members of the public with their review of proposed projects.

For environmental assessments ("EAs") conducted by the Agency, the National Energy Board or the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission under CEAA 2012, the new document entitled Assessing Cumulative Environmental Effects under CEAA 2012 replaces the previous OPS (from 2007) under former CEAA. EAs initiated under the former CEAA that are being conducted as comprehensive studies will still have the 2007 OPS applied to them. 

Legislative Requirements under CEAA 2012

As discussed in Bull Housser's previous alert on major changes introduced by the passage of CEAA 2012, this new Act lists the environmental effects and factors that must be taken into account in an EA. These include "any cumulative environmental effects that are likely to result" from the proposed project. The OPS provides guidance on how those cumulative effects are to be considered.

OPS Guidance on Cumulative Environmental Effects Assessments

The OPS states that an assessment of cumulative environmental effects must be done on a case-by-case basis, taking into consideration the:

  • characteristics of the project;
  • risks associated with the potential cumulative environmental effects;
  • health or status of valued components that may be impacted by the cumulative environmental effects;
  • potential for mitigation and the extent to which mitigation measures may address potential environmental effects; and
  • level of concern expressed by aboriginal groups or the public.

The cumulative environmental effects assessment must be done before determining the significance of any adverse environmental effects of the proposed project.

The OPS also describes five steps that should be included in all cumulative environmental effects assessments. This information will assist project proponents and responsible authorities in the EA process. According to the OPS:

Step 1:  Initial Scoping

Scoping is an iterative process that includes identifying valued components, determining the spatial and temporal boundaries of physical activities, and examining physical activities that have been and will be carried out.

Step 2:  Analysis

Methodologies, assumptions, uncertainties, and conclusions should be clearly identified and described. Even when there is little supportive data or predictive uncertainty, potential cumulative environmental effects should still be considered and may be supplemented by computer models or data from other comparable areas. Community knowledge and aboriginal traditional knowledge should be incorporated.

Step 3:  Identification of Mitigation Measures

Mitigation can occur either by eliminating, reducing, or controlling a project's environmental effects (the preferred option), or restitution for damage to the environment, e.g. restoring habitat or purchasing land. Both forms of mitigation can be considered in deciding whether the project is likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects.

Step 4:  Determination of Significance

Significance predictions should be presented and rationalized against defined criteria in the Agency's guide, entitled, Determining Whether a Project is Likely to Cause Significant Adverse Environmental Effects (1994) or future updates to this OPS.

Step 5:  Follow-Up

Project-specific environmental effects and cumulative environmental effects should be addressed. Additional guidance is available in the Agency's Follow Up Programs under the CEAA (2011) or future updates to this OPS.

As the federal EA regime continues to take shape under the new CEAA 2012, Bull Housser will continue to advise our clients on key developments.

This article was authored by Emily Chan and Jana McLean.

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.