Nature Canada

Exemptions from federal environmental review for oil and gas projects unjustified, say environmental groups

Ensuring federal assessment of high-carbon projects is critical if Canada is to step up Paris Agreement ambitions at COP 24.

For Immediate Release – December 6, 2018, OTTAWA – Some of Canada’s largest and most polluting industrial projects may get a free pass on federal review under a new law if the government capitulates to industry demands, warn leading environmental groups. The groups are calling on Canada to expand the list of projects it reviews to ensure that greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental damage from proposed industrial development are minimized.

Bill C-69, which includes the Impact Assessment Act, has been subject to intense lobbying in the Senate to weaken or kill the Bill. In recent weeks, the oil and gas and nuclear industries have also begun claiming that their projects – some of Canada’s riskiest – should be exempt altogether from the new law.

The Impact Assessment Act mandates the government to weigh the positive and negative impacts of projects that affect the environment, considering factors such as climate change, potential harm to watersheds and endangered species, public safety, and Indigenous rights, in order to minimize harms and boost benefits.

The environmental groups have developed a comprehensive list of major projects that should be reviewed under Bill C-69 if Canada is to meet its climate targets. Highlighted project categories include:

  • All projects that propose to emit more than 50,000 tonnes of GHGs per year until 2030, descending to 5,000 tonnes by 2040, including in situ oil sands projects, cement plants, and oil and gas pipelines;
  • All projects requiring permits under the Fisheries Act and Canadian Navigable Waters Act, including hydroelectric dams;
  • Projects located in National Parks, National Wildlife Areas or other federal protected areas, including new roads, ski hills and tourist attractions;
  • Construction or installation of nuclear reactors, including small modular reactors;
  • Projects that impact species at risk and their critical habitat; and
  • Projects that will induce further development, such as roads and transmission lines into relatively undeveloped areas.

How can Minister McKenna claim that Canada is stepping up its ambitions with respect to the Paris Agreement, when her government does not even plan to assess how to reduce pollution from high-carbon projects such as in situ oil sands projects and cement plants?” says Stephen Hazell, Director of Policy and General Counsel at Nature Canada.

The purpose of impact assessment is to look before you leap,” says Anna Johnston, Staff Lawyer at West Coast Environmental Law Association. “In this era of catastrophic climate change and mass extinction, we need to ensure we are making wise decisions that minimize environmental harm and benefit communities. Impact assessment is the right tool to do that, but only if it applies across the board.


For more information, please contact:

Stephen Hazell | Director of Policy & General Counsel, Nature Canada
613-724-1908 (cell)
613-562-3447 ext. 240 (office)

Anna Johnston | Staff Lawyer, West Coast Environmental Law Association
604-340-2304 (cell – on Eastern time zone)

Karine Péloffy | Legal Counsel, Centre québécois du droit de l’environnement 514-746-6597 (cell, available in FR and ENG)

Patrick DeRochie | Climate & Energy Program Manager, Environmental Defence
416-576-2701 (cell)

Josh Ginsberg | Lawyer, Ecojustice
613-562-5800 ext. 3399

View the recommended entries to the project list.

Click here for the PDF version of this press release.

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