Air Quality Legislation & Regulations

Air quality in B.C. is managed through a range of provincial acts and regulations (laws). The federal government also plays an important role, along with regional and municipal governments.

Air Quality Regulations

The Government of B.C. consults with the public, business and industry, nongovernmental organizations and other interested parties in developing legislation. Local governments can also pass bylaws to control emissions from activities such as backyard burning.

Managing Air quality involves other processes and legislation. This includes the environmental assessment process under the Environmental Assessment Act. Proposed projects may need to undergo a formal environmental assessment, if required by criteria in federal or provincial legislation. This process identifies and assesses the potential impacts of a proposed project and develops measures to eliminate, minimize or manage those impacts. For more information, visit the Environmental Assessment Office website.

The government has passed crucial acts and regulations aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and addressing climate change. Regulations under these acts are being developed. Since air quality and climate change are interrelated, these laws will help decrease emissions that contribute to air pollution. To find out more, see the Ministry of Environment's website: Policy, Legislation & Programs.

Airshed management planning, which involves a variety of government jurisdictions and other stakeholders, is another important way governments address air pollution.

Note: The information about the legislation below is for private study or research purposes only. For information on how to obtain the official printed versions of B.C.'s statutes, see BC Laws; Frequently Asked Questions (Queen's Printer).

Levels of Government Involved

Managing air quality is a partnership between multiple government jurisdictions and stakeholders.

The main governments involved in air quality management are the federal, provincial, regional and municipal governments, along with international joint organizations. They are responsible for making and enforcing laws, issuing permits and codes of practice, and setting standards, objectives, guidelines and criteria. In addition, they work with other government agencies and stakeholders to in airshed management.

Federal Legislation

The federal government’s role in addressing air quality issues is largely defined through the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA). Many emission sources that lie beyond provincial authority are subject to federal regulation, standards and guidelines. These include motor vehicles and fuels, marine vessels, railways and off-road engines. The federal government also provides research support and advice to provincial and municipal agencies in the development of strategies and plans.

Provincial Legislation

In general, the provinces are responsible for controlling pollution from industry and business activities. B.C.'s Environmental Management Act and the Waste Discharge Regulation are the principal pieces of legislation for air quality and other environmental issues in British Columbia. Flowing from them are regulations that address specific air-quality issues. The province has the authority to develop air quality standards and guidelines, regulate point and area sources, and require the preparation of airshed management plans.

British Columbia is also a member of the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME), composed of Canada's federal, provincial and territorial environment ministers. The CCME has developed Canada-wide standards for particulate matter and ground-level ozone, which are an important step towards the long-term goal of minimizing the risk PM and ozone pose to human health and the environment.

Regional and Municipal Legislation

Regional and municipal governments can pass bylaws to control emissions such as backyard burning, wood stoves and vehicle idling. These governments can also address air pollution through land-use and transportation planning, regional growth strategies and sustainability plans. For more information, see the 2015 British Columbia Air Quality Bylaw Inventory (PDF).

Under the Environmental Management Act, the Metro Vancouver (the Greater Vancouver Regional District) has been delegated authority to manage air quality within its boundaries — an important responsibility in B.C., given the size of its population. It administers laws that regulate emissions from industrial, commercial and industrial sources, through permits, compliance promotion and enforcement. A key role is establishing ambient air quality criteria that may be different but no less stringent (or more stringent) than requirements established by the province.

International Actions and Agreements

International actions and agreements include the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, the Kyoto Protocol and the Canada-United States Air Quality Agreement. Closer to home is the Georgia Basin/Puget Sound International Airshed Strategy, a multi-agency, international effort to address shared air quality management concerns.