The British Columbia Environmental Assessment Act
The British Columbia Environmental Assessment Act (BCEAA) requires certain major projects to be evaluated for potential impacts to the environment. Passed in 2002, the BCEAA is a project-specific, proponent-driven process, whereby projects that are designated as “reviewable” under the Reviewable Projects Regulations are subject to the environmental assessment process. The Minister of Environment has discretion to either include or exclude specific projects. The proponent of a project that requires environmental assessment must provide certain information to the Environmental Assessment Office (EAO), which then evaluates that information, considers input from government agencies and the public, and determines whether the project should be granted the environmental assessment certificate that is necessary to commence construction.
Scope of Coverage
The BCEAA outlines three categories of projects that require an environmental assessment certificate:
- The project falls within a class of projects requiring an environmental assessment under the Reviewable Projects Regulation;
- The proponent applies to the executive director of the Environmental Assessment Office to have the project designated as a reviewable; or
- The Minister exercises her discretion to include the project in an environmental assessment process where the project is not caught by the Reviewable Projects Regulation.
The Environmental Assessment Office is primarily responsible for managing the assessment process. Other agencies that have mandates relating to the project also will be involved to varying degrees, depending on the project type and permits that may be required. The EAO coordinates information from the proponent, facilitates communication with other government departments, and solicits public comments as to the potential environmental, economic, social, heritage or health effects of the project.
After receiving an application for an environmental assessment certificate from the proponent of a project, the Environmental Assessment Office prepares an assessment report that is given to the ministers responsible for deciding whether to issue an environmental assessment certificate.
The process can be grouped into four main steps: pre-application, completion evaluation, application review and decision.
This step begins with the determination under section 10 as to whether the project falls within the thresholds for reviewable projects under the Reviewable Projects Regulations, or by order of the Minister of Environment. Then, under section 11, the EAO determines the scope, procedures and methods of evaluating the project under the Act. This sets out the requirements for the proponent regarding what information is required, what the timeframe for information is and what actions or activities the proponent is responsible for in the environmental assessment. During the application information requirements stage there is an opportunity for public review and comment, in which the EAO provides a form for concerns regarding the project for the general public to submit on its website.
After all the information required under the section 11 order has been submitted by the proponent, the EAO reviews the application for completeness. This has a typical time limit of 30 days.
Once it has been determined that all the necessary information has been provided by the proponent, the EAO has 180 days to review the application, determine if there will be any environmental, economic, social, heritage or health effects, and whether the proponent’s proposed measures to mitigate those effects is adequate. During this time, there is another public comment period, which is typically 60 days in length. The EAO must prepare an assessment report, which is provided to the ministers responsible for the EA certificate decision. This assessment report is accompanied by recommendations from the Executive Director as to whether the environmental assessment certificate should be issued, and what terms and conditions should be attached to it.
Once the ministers have received the information from the EAO, they have 45 days to determine if the project is approved or not. If they approve the project, the proponent is issued an environmental assessment certificate, and may proceed with the project. If the Ministers do not approve the project, they may either send the application back for more information and further assessment, or refuse to issue a certificate, and the project may not proceed.
Public Comment Periods
As mentioned, there are two public comment periods that occur during a BC environmental assessment process. These public comment periods are announced a minimum of seven days before the period opens, through newspapers, radio and web site notifications. All issues that are raised by the public are tracked, and the proponent must respond to them in a document that will be posted to the EAO website.