Changes to Ontario environmental reviews to expedite infrastructure projects
TORONTO — The Ontario government says a new, more effective and efficient environmental assessment process, which critics complain has until now slowed infrastructure projects to a crawl.
“Our proposals will mean a faster yes or a faster no for applicants while completely protecting the environment,” said Environment Minister Laurel Broten.
The ministry is proposing a number of changes to both shorten the government decision-making process and ensure sound environmental planning and will work with EA practitioners, environmental and community groups, as well as the public. They include:
Streamlining the approvals process for transit projects; Developing a new waste regulation that standardizes the process based on type, size and impact of project; Integrate the EA process with planning processes under other provincial legislation to reduce duplication especially for energy, transit and waste initiatives
The government says it will now ensure projects receive a level of review appropriate to their potential environmental impact and well as “improve education and guidance to eliminate confusion and false starts.”
The proposed improvements would result in a process that uses the best available science, and give proponents the tools to get projects through the EA process faster without sacrificing environmental protection. Time and costs savings will depend on the size and complexity of the project, the minister says.
The Ontario Trucking Association welcomes the news to proceed more quickly, “as opposed to what it has become — a mechanism to block important projects.”
OTA has repeatedly stated that one of the major obstacles impeding much-needed highway and border infrastructure investment is the EA process. “Increasingly over the past couple of decades, the EA process seemed to be less and less about protecting the environment and more and more about protecting property values or other self-interests,” said OTA President David Bradley. “Without a change to the process one wonders if we would ever see another major highway or border infrastructure project built in this province.”
Bradley pointed to the bureaucratic hurdles in the way of solving the City of Windsor’s transborder traffic woes, or the years of delays in building Highway 407, as examples of environmental procedures holding up important projects.
“Can we hope to see construction of the Mid-Peninsula Corridor in our lifetimes? I’d hate to think what we would do if we were ever in a real crisis and had to have infrastructure built immediately,” said Bradley, adding he hopes the federal government will also change its EA process.
“It is imperative that the environment be protected and respected, but the EA process should not be held ransom by ‘Not in My Backyard’ interests,” Bradley said.
In June 2004, the government created an advisory panel, comprised of experts from academia, industry, the legal profession and municipalities to provide recommendations on improving the EA process, with a focus on three sectors – energy, waste and transit/transportation.
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