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Environmental Assessments

Region: Ontario Answer # 373

An environmental assessment is a formal process in which the federal Impact Assessment Agency of Canada (IAA) or the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks evaluates the environmental impact of a proposed development or building. The law ensures that the environmental impact of many large-scale activities is evaluated before the activities are permitted. The environmental assessment process also informs the public about the project and gives interested parties the right to comment before the project is approved.

The IAA deals with projects or properties owned or regulated by the federal government. The Ontario Environmental Assessment Act requires that an assessment be done for activities that are proposed by the province, a municipality, or another public body. This includes activities such as building roads, hydro stations and landfill sites. The provincial Act also requires assessments for some major commercial undertakings such as waste-related projects. Most commercial undertakings will not require an environmental assessment.

Class assessment

Ontario’s environmental assessment process has two branches. The first is a class assessment that is used for most municipal service projects such as sewers, pumping stations and sewer and water works. Under this simplified process, municipalities consult with the government and the public to determine the environmental impacts of the class of activities, and establish a set of rules that any project in the class will be subject to. The rules are designed to ensure that environmental impacts are limited.

Individual assessment

The second type of environmental assessment process is called the individual assessment and it applies to large projects such as landfills, and to those that do not qualify for the simplified class assessment process. For example, a local road would qualify for a class assessment and a highway often requires an individual assessment. Every landfill site requires an individual assessment. The proponent or developer of the project prepares an outline of the proposed project and proposes the rules that will govern the individual environmental assessment process. The outline and rules are called the Terms of Reference. The proponent must consult the public, and submit the outline to the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks. The Minister reviews the Terms of Reference and the public comments and refuses, changes or approves the Terms of Reference.

The Terms of Reference

The environmental assessment process follows the rules set out in the Terms of Reference. Often the Terms of Reference will establish the rules the proponent must follow in choosing a site for the project. Usually the Terms of Reference require the proponent to conduct technical studies to determine the potential environmental impacts of the proposed project. When all the studies have been completed, the proponent prepares a comprehensive document called the environmental assessment, that summarizes all the studies and describes in detail the site or route of the project and the type of construction and equipment proposed. It also describes the potential environmental impacts of the project and the steps proposed to minimize those impacts.

Review by the Minister

Each environmental assessment is reviewed by the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks. The Minister can either approve the project, reject the project, or send the proposal to a hearing.

To determine whether an environmental assessment is needed for a project that may affect you, whether you have the right to be consulted or to make submissions, or to get assistance conducting or opposing the process, visit the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks at ontario.ca, or the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada.

For legal advice, contact an environmental law lawyer.

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