Protecting the environment, advancing reconciliation with Indigenous Nations and offering clear pathways to approvals of sustainable projects are all part of the new way major projects will be reviewed in British Columbia.
The new Environmental Assessment Act is now in force, ensuring greater public participation, and participation from Indigenous Nations, at every stage of the environmental assessment (EA) process. Predictability and certainty increase when all participants understand rights, interests and environmental concerns. The new EA process embodies collaboration and information sharing throughout to identify and resolve issues early and to avoid delays.
Development of the new Environmental Assessment Act and supporting policies and regulations included significant collaboration with Indigenous Nations, businesses, environmental organizations and the public.
“We are building a stronger, more sustainable British Columbia where we clearly demonstrate to the world that project approvals in B.C. are based on respect for the environment, recognition of Aboriginal rights and deliver solid opportunities for workers and communities,” said George Heyman, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy. “Additional regulations to address dispute resolution, application of Indigenous knowledge and other matters of concern to Indigenous peoples are being developed in collaboration with Indigenous leaders and Nations in a process guided by the new Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act.”
The changes set out a clearly defined process for collaboration with participating Indigenous Nations and opportunities for Nations to provide notification of consent at major decision points.
Other key features of the new EA process include:
- increased clarity and certainty for project proponents through an early engagement phase that involves the public and Indigenous Nations to identify the focus areas for the project assessment prior to proceeding through an EA;
- enhanced public engagement, including additional comment periods and earlier collaboration between the Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) and local communities;
- transparency through legislated requirement to consider positive and adverse environmental, economic, social, cultural and health effects in each assessment, including potential impacts on the Province’s ability to meet greenhouse gas emission reduction targets;
- strengthened compliance and enforcement tools for approved projects, along with audits, to make sure conditions included in EA certificates mitigate identified adverse effects as intended; and
- inclusion of traditional Indigenous knowledge and western science in assessments.
To support timely reviews, the revised legislation promotes a “one project, one assessment” approach between provincial, federal and Indigenous jurisdictions — though each jurisdiction retains its decision-making authority.
Development of regulations and policies to implement the legislation has been supported by a Stakeholder Implementation Committee and an Indigenous Implementation Committee. This ensures the EAO continues to put forward practical solutions informed by feedback from those who are deeply involved in the EA process.
Projects already in the EA process will continue under the Environmental Assessment Act, 2002. However, any projects that do not complete the assessment process within three years will be required to complete an assessment under the new act.
Revitalizing the EA process is a key area for reconciliation identified by the Commitment Agreement with First Nations Leadership Council. It is a shared priority between government and the BC Green Party caucus and is part of the Confidence and Supply Agreement.
A variety of resources are available to help EA participants learn how they can meaningfully participate in the process, including resources from the public, Indigenous Nations and industry.
Follow @bc_eao on Twitter for updates to revitalization, engagement opportunities and projects undergoing EAs.
For more information on the revitalization process, visit: www.gov.bc.ca/eao/revitalization