Frequently Asked Questions about Environmental Assessment Revitalization

The Questions

Why is B.C.’s environmental assessment process changing?

We’re revitalizing B.C.’s environmental assessment process to ensure the legal rights of First Nations are respected and the public’s expectation of a strong, transparent process is met.

B.C.’s environmental assessment process was last updated in 2002, and we’re committed to ensuring B.C.’s environmental assessment process is in line with world leading best practices. 

What is EA revitalization focused on?

Enhancing public confidence: ensuring impacted First Nations, local communities and governments and the broader public can meaningfully participate in all stages of environmental assessment through a process that is robust, transparent, timely and predictable;

Advancing reconciliation with First Nations; and, 

Protecting the environment while offering clear pathways to sustainable project approvals by providing certainty of process and clarity of regulatory considerations including opportunities for early indications of the likelihood of success.

How can I participate in EA revitalization?

There’s two ways to contribute (and we encourage you to do both!)

  1. Read the Discussion paper, and provide your feedback

The Discussion Paper describes the proposed changes to B.C.’s Environmental Assessment process, and was written with input from First Nations, a newly formed Environmental Assessment Advisory Committee, industry and stakeholders. We want to make sure the proposed changes also meet the needs and desires of the public – so please share your opinions with us. The Discussion Paper (PDF, 5.6MB) has been written to highlight the proposed changes in an easy to follow format, and some guiding questions throughout the paper will help you gather your thoughts. Once you've read the Discussion Paper, click here to provide your comments through our public comment website.

  1. Complete the Engagement Survey 

It’s important to us that British Columbians understand the environmental assessment process, and that it’s easy to meaningfully engage throughout the process. This means information is easy to find, easy to understand, and that the Environmental Assessment Office makes information available in a way that works for you. Help us do a better job of making things easier for you, and fill out the Engagement Survey – it should only take about 8-15 minutes.

How will my feedback make a difference?

The proposed changes in the discussion paper are just that: proposed. They are not final, and we recognize the importance of making sure that when it comes to revitalizing B.C.’s environmental assessment process – we get it right.

It’s important that we hear from the public that we’re getting it right, and if not, where we could improve. We’ll be strongly considering these suggestions as we put together the final changes proposed for B.C.’s environmental assessment process.

The feedback provided in the engagement survey will be incredibly important to help us create new ways of engaging with British Columbians. The EAO is committed to ensuring the public can access information about environmental assessments in a way that is easy to understand, and through a variety of ways that reaches all British Columbians. Responses to the survey are vitally important to guide these efforts.

Why is the public being engaged now?

The environmental assessment revitalization process has many steps and many opportunities for input. Each stage of engagement will help to inform future stages of engagement with different groups, each building off of previous work. 

In deciding when to engage the public, it is important that every British Columbian have the opportunity to meaningfully comment and engage. That means providing a clear picture of what B.C.’s environmental assessment process could look like.  

To do that, we needed to engage with a community of experts first to help us paint that picture. We’re now asking for feedback from the public to ensure we get it right.

When will environmental assessments actually change in B.C.?

We’re working with an aggressive timeline to make recommendations and implement changes to the EA policy/legislative framework. The Province is aiming to introduce legislative changes late in the fall 2018 session.

Assuming the legislation passes, it will take several months to ensure a smooth transition to the new process. This includes incorporating the new changes into policies, regulations and operations of the Environmental Assessment Office, and ensuring alignment with government permitting agencies, and other partner organizations. The first project to undergo a revitalized EA process is expected as early as late 2019.

Environmental assessments that are already underway will continue under the current process. A revitalized EA process would be prospective, not retrospective.

It sounds like Revitalization has the potential to add additional layers of red tape to the EA process – how will the province ensure B.C. continues to remain attractive to investment?

A common complaint of the current environmental assessment process is that there can be uncertainty with respect to process, timelines, or outcomes. Addressing these concerns is one of our top priorities. 
The revitalized EA process will provide greater certainty to proponents, as well as providing opportunities for early indications of success. 

A revitalized EA process will be more responsive to proponent needs than the current process, and ensures B.C. continues to be an attractive destination for investment.

Will the new EA process be longer or shorter than the current process?

While every environmental assessment varies from project to project, it is intended that the new proposed process will be shorter and provide greater timeline certainty than the current process.

The new proposed EA process incorporates early engagement work that is already happening but not accounted for in the current time calculation. The addition of a mandatory early engagement phase is expected to increase certainty at later stages in the process and avoid suspensions/requests for information, resulting in more projects following the standard legislated timelines

Additionally, a 180 day timeline is being proposed for the Process Order and there is no prescribed timeline during current the pre-application phase of the EA, which is introduced with the new proposed process.  

Is industry being left out of the revitalization process?

Industry has been and will continue to be substantially engaged throughout the revitalization process. 

Industry stakeholders participated in bi-lateral meetings with EAO staff throughout the engagement period in February to April to ensure their concerns were understood. Industry representatives continue to be engaged as the revitalization process continues. For details on the organizations engaged thus far, check out the Direct Engagements page

Industry was also represented on the Environmental Assessment Advisory Committee, in balance with Indigenous groups, local government, environmental NGOs, and others.

What happens to projects that are already involved with the current environmental assessment process?

Projects currently under assessment under the current EA Act will continue under the existing process, with practical transition provisions.

How is the First Nations Energy and Mining Council involved in the Revitalization process?

The Environmental Assessment Office is collaborating with the First Nations Energy and Mining Council (FNEMC), on behalf on the First Nations Leadership Council, to ensure a revitalized environmental assessment process advances reconciliation. 

FNEMC has been working with EAO for a number of years to identify ways to improve the EA process to make it more meaningful to Indigenous peoples. 

FNEMC delivered regional workshops for First Nations community representatives as well as a 2 day provincial workshop, to ensure their perspectives on the current environmental assessment process and suggestions on what changes could be made were captured.

Why is the First Nations Energy and Mining Council (FNEMC) involved in B.C.’s EA Revitalization Process?

We’re committed to engaging directly with Indigenous groups throughout the revitalization process at a government-to-government level.

We are also working with FNEMC to engage with First Nations to make sure we provide a variety of opportunities to collect feedback.

FNEMC is a partner in the Revitalization process for a number of reasons: 

  • The previous government signed an agreement with the First Nations Leadership Council that identified changes to the EA process as a commitment and, at the request of First Nations, our government endorsed maintaining that commitment document. 
  • The FNLC has named FNEMC as the organization that will work on behalf of FNLC for the EA commitment.
  • Our government is also committed to implementing UNDRIP, and that means engaging with First Nations through the institutions they have identified to represent them, and working with them on legislation that effects them. 

That being said, some individual Indigenous groups have clearly identified to EAO that FNEMC does not speak for them. Because of this identified concern, EAO is offering direct government-to-government engagement opportunities for individual Indigenous groups to provide input to the EA revitalization process.

Are Indigenous groups in B.C. only able to provide input through the First Nations Energy and Mining Council?

No. EAO is offering direct government-to-government engagement opportunities for individual Indigenous groups to provide input to the EA revitalization process. Some individual Indigenous groups have clearly identified to EAO that FNEMC does not speak for them. 

In addition, four Indigenous regional workshops in Terrace, Prince George, Kamloops and Nanaimo were led by FNEMC for attendees to share their experiences and perspectives on B.C.’s current environmental assessment process. A fifth province-wide workshop was also held over 2 days in Vancouver.

Finally, anyone will have an opportunity to provide feedback during the comment period which is now open until July 30th, 2018.

Doesn’t implementing The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples amount to a veto for Indigenous groups where development is concerned?

The Province is committed to implementing UNDRIP and is considering how to bring principles of the declaration into action in context of environmental assessment as it meets its commitment to revitalize the environmental assessment process. 

Free, prior and informed consent is not a veto.  It is an important aspect of natural resource development and we must find ways to embrace and reflect the stewardship values and respective responsibilities maintained by First Nations in any decision making related to major projects.

Who was on the Environmental Assessment Advisory Committee? How were members selected?

The Environmental Assessment Advisory Committee was co-chaired by Bruce Fraser, an ecologist by training and past chair of both the Forest Practices Board and the Taskforce on Species at Risk; and Lydia Hwitsum, former Chief of the Cowichan Tribes and Chair of the First Nations Health Authority board of directors. 

The Committee included a further 10 members across Indigenous groups, local government, industry, Environmental NGOs, environmental law, impact assessors and planners, and provided an independent analysis of B.C.’s current environmental assessment process, and opportunities for improvement. 

Committee members were recommended by the Environmental Assessment Office and the First Nations Energy and Mining Council to represent a broad spectrum of experts who engage with environmental assessments. 

How will the Federal Government’s review of their environmental assessment process impact B.C’s revitalization efforts? 

The changes proposed for the federal EA processes in Bill C-69 are quite aligned with what B.C. is already doing, or is aligned with changes likely to be considered in the revitalization process. 

We will certainly consider bill C-69 in the context of revitalization, but do not expect it to unduly influence B.C.’s efforts to revitalize our own environmental assessment process in the best interests of British Columbians. 

Many individuals and organizations just provided a wealth of feedback in the review of the Federal Environmental Assessment Process. Is their feedback being considered? Do they need to repeat themselves?

We work very closely with the federal government and thanks to a lot of the work they have done in reviewing their own environmental assessment process, we’ve been able to learn many lessons already on how to take the best approach. 

Feedback from the federal process has helped shape the goals of what we’re trying to achieve with revitalization, so in many ways, feedback provided during the federal process is already integrated into B.C.’s revitalization efforts.

At the same time, we encourage anyone who did contribute to the federal review to still provide feedback for B.C.’s EA revitalization to ensure their voice is heard within the specific context of British Columbia.

How does the review of the Professional Reliance model in B.C. intersect with EA revitalization?

Government’s review of Professional Reliance will make recommendations on improving the professional reliance model broadly. Some aspects of these recommendations could impact the way in which professionals are employed in environmental assessments. 

This could include additional transparency and accountability mechanisms that EAO would require of proponents in the environmental assessment process.

How will EA revitalization impact land use planning?

The Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development has been mandated to modernize land use planning, and any changes resulting from that modernization will be reflected in a revitalized environmental assessment process. 

Land use planning is an important input into environmental assessments. Currently, many land use plans are largely out of date. 

A revitalized environmental assessment (EA) process would ensure that any newly developed land use plans are considered early in an EA, and ensure a clear regulatory context is in place with respect to EAs.

How will the proposed new Species-at-Risk legislation impact environmental assessments?

Currently, species at risk are protected by decisions made within sector-specific Acts, resulting in a patchwork of rules that do not effectively or consistently protect all species at risk or their habitats from all types of human-related impacts across all types of land use. 

The new Species-at-risk legislation will provide increased certainty about when and how species at risk will be protected, reducing the chances of conflicts or delays within the environmental assessment process. The relationships between the Species at Risk Act and environmental assessments will be clearer when the new Species at Risk legislation is released.  

How does the proposed new process address climate change?

It is proposed that a revitalized EA process in B.C. will include legislated decision criteria for Ministers when deciding to issue an EA certificate. One of those criteria being suggested is the impact on B.C.’s climate targets and strategies.

Considering climate change and greenhouse gas emissions is not new to the environmental assessment process.  We will continue to build on current practice to ensure this important issue is addressed while recognizing that environmental assessment is focused on specific project proposals.

Will Ministers continue to have the final say on whether or not to issue an environmental assessment certificate?

Yes. It is proposed that the provincial decision on whether or not to issue an Environmental Assessment Certificate will continue to be made by elected officials and will be evidence-based, reflecting the best available science and Indigenous knowledge obtained during the EA, and applying decision-making criteria and approval tests set out in legislation.

It is anticipated participating Indigenous nations in the environmental assessment will also choose to make a decision on whether the project should receive a certificate.  Ministers must take these decisions into consideration.

Fair, transparent, timely, resilient decisions are essential at the end of an EA process. Decisions need to be founded in the robust assessment that was just completed, reflect public interest, and respect the decision making authority of Indigenous groups. Recognition of Indigenous groups’ decisions is a key aspect of the UN Declaration and reconciliation. 

By making the decision-making criteria more specific and transparent all parties would have confidence that the things that matter to them will be considered.

What are the next steps in revitalizing B.C.’s environmental assessment process?

Once we’ve received public feedback, we’ll revisit the proposed changes and ensure they serve the best interests of Indigenous groups and all British Columbians.

In late summer, we’ll release a What we Heard Report that outlines the feedback we received from the public, Indigenous groups, and stakeholders. We’ll also release an Intentions Paper in early fall that will outline the intended direction of the revitalized EA process.

You can follow along as revitalization progresses through to completion by signing up to receive updates at the end of the Public Engagement Survey.
Click here to view an infographic detailing the various steps in the revitalization process (JPG, 2MB).