Frequently Asked Questions about Environmental Assessment Revitalization

These FAQs provide a high level overview of Environmental Assessment Revitalization. If you have additional questions, please get in touch at ea.revitalization@gov.bc.ca.
Updated: October 28, 2019.

  1. Why is B.C.’s environmental assessment process changing?
  2. What is EA revitalization focused on?
  3. How can I participate in EA revitalization?
  4. How will my feedback make a difference?
  5. How has public feedback made a difference in the new Act?
  6. How has public feedback made a difference in the way we engage the public?
  7. How are organizations, governments and Indigenous nations being engaged in the revitalization process?
  8. When will environmental assessments actually change in B.C.?
  9. It sounds like the new process has the potential to add additional layers of red tape to the environmental assessment (EA) process - how will the Province ensure B.C. continues to remain attractive to investment?
  10. How will the new act support business in making investment decisions?
  11. Will the new environmental assessment (EA) process be longer than the current process?
  12. What happens to projects that are already involved with the current environmental assessment process?
  13. How does the revitalized environment assessment process ensure that the data and information provided during assessments is accurate and trustworthy?
  14. How will sustainability be reflected in the environmental assessment process?
  15. What compliance and enforcement changes will the revitalized environmental assessment process introduce and why?
  16. Why are projects able to be exempted from environmental assessments? Didn't the public and environmental groups call for exemptions to be removed from the Act? 
  17. How is free, prior and informed consent reflected in the revitalized environmental assessment (EA) process?
  18. What does a consent-based process mean?
  19. Who provides notice of consent on behalf of an Indigenous nation?
  20. What does consensus mean?
  21. What does it mean to seek consensus?
  22. Who is the Environmental Assessment Office required to seek to achieve consensus with?
  23. What was the Environmental Assessment Advisory Committee? How were members selected?
  24. What is the Revitalization Stakeholder Implementation Committee? How were members selected?
  25. What is the Revitalization Indigenous Implementation Committee? How were members selected?
  26. How does the Professional Governance Act intersect with the new Environmental Assessment Act?
  27. How does Environmental Assessment Revitalization reflect land use plans?
  28. How does the proposed new process address climate change?
  29. Will Ministers continue to have the final say on whether or not to issue an environmental assessment certificate?
  30. What are the next steps in revitalizing B.C.'s environmental assessment process?

 


1. 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.

The Province of British Columbia has committed to the full implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UN Declaration), the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions (TRC) Calls to Action and the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in Tsilhqot’in v. B.C., and to reviewing its policies, programs and laws to bring these commitments into action.
Revitalizing the Environmental Assessment (EA) process presents an opportunity to develop a new legal framework and to make organizational shifts based on recognition of Indigenous title, rights and jurisdiction, treaty rights, and the legal pluralism that exists in Canada. Doing so has the potential to increase process certainty, the durability of decisions, and result in resilient outcomes for all EA participants.


2. What is EA revitalization focused on?

Enhancing public confidence: ensuring impacted Indigenous 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.


3. How can I participate in EA revitalization?

Now that the new legislation has passed, the Environmental Assessment Office is developing the regulations and policies that will fill in additional details. We’ll be engaging the public, Indigenous nations, industry and stakeholders on key policies and regulations as they’re developed to make sure we continue to put forward practical solutions informed by feedback from those who are involved in and impacted by the environmental assessment process (for details, check out this infographic). Public engagements are expected in late summer through fall 2019. All engagements will be announced as they become available on the public engagement page.


4. What public engagements have occurred so far?

From June 18th to July 30th, 2018, British Columbians provided feedback on the proposed changes to the Environmental Assessment Act - outlined in the Discussion Paper. A complete record of the over 2,500 public comments that were submitted can be found on the Environmental Assessment Office’s Project Information website. A summary report of the major themes that were received can be read in the What We Heard Report, and a detailed list of how we’re addressing the major themes can be found in the What We Heard Response Table. For a plain-language explanation of the new environmental assessment process, please see the Intentions Paper.


5. How has public feedback made a difference in the new act?

A lot of the feedback we received from the public last year was in support of the major changes we proposed for the Act, which helped us confirm and refine our direction. 
A breakdown of how public feedback was addressed in the new legislation is available in the What We Heard Response Table. Some feedback that wasn’t addressed in legislation is being implemented through regulations and policies – we are continuing to engage on key pieces. For public engagement opportunities, please see the Public Engagement Page. 


6. How has public feedback made a difference in the way we engage the public?

The feedback provided in the engagement survey (conducted in summer, 2018) has been incredibly important in helping the Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) create the policies that will guide engagement with British Columbians under the new act. 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. 
Another engagement survey was held from September 6th to October 15th, which will help us further refine our public engagement approach. The results are currently being analysed and are anticipated to be released in December, 2019 on the Public Engagement Page.


7. How are organizations, governments and Indigenous nations being engaged in the revitalization process?

Local government, industry, Indigenous Nations, environmental assessment (EA) practitioners, environmental non-governmental organizations and environmental lawyers have been and will continue to be substantially engaged throughout the revitalization process. 

During development of the new Environmental Assessment Act, organizations, governments and Indigenous Nations were represented on the Environmental Assessment Advisory Committee. They also participated in bi-lateral meetings with Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) staff to ensure their concerns were understood and fully considered. Details on the organizations, governments and Indigenous nations that were engaged are available on the Direct Engagements page.   

Organizations, governments, and Indigenous Nations continue to be engaged on the development of regulations and policies through bi-lateral meetings, and representation on the Revitalization Stakeholder Implementation Committee and Indigenous Implementation Committee.


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

It is anticipated that the new act will come into force in late 2019.

Since the new Act passed last fall, we are taking the time we need 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. 

Environmental assessments that are already underway will continue under the current process with transition provisions. Additional details on the transition provisions can be found in section 78 of the new Act. 


9. It sounds like the new process has the potential to add additional layers of red tape to the environmental assessment (EA) process - how will the Province ensure B.C. continues to remain attractive to investment?

A common concern of the current environmental assessment Act is process uncertainty. Addressing this concern is one of our top priorities. 
The new Environmental Assessment Act improves on B.C.’s existing world-leading EA process by more effectively involving Indigenous nations, the public, stakeholders and industry throughout the process. Deeply involving all EA participants early in the process not only builds relationships and trust, it critically surfaces key project concerns early, minimizing the potential for costly project re-designs and delays later in the process. 
The new Act establishes a process to support implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in the new process, improving certainty of the EA process and durability of decisions.
A revitalized EA process will be more responsive to proponents’ needs by providing clearer timelines, clarity of the relationship between EAs and permits, and a dispute resolution model to resolve potential conflicts, to name a few.
These changes and others ensure good projects go forward and that B.C. continues to be an attractive destination for investment.


10. How will the new act support businesses in making investment decisions?

British Columbia welcomes proposals for sustainable development projects, and supports their development through a robust, efficient and predictable regulatory continuum that fosters a sound economy and the well-being of British Columbians and their communities. A revised Reviewable Projects Regulation makes it easier for businesses to determine if their project requires an environmental assessment, supporting business and investment decisions. The new Process Order sets out project specific timelines, information requirements and an issues resolution process – minimizing uncertainty and surprises. 

The new Early Engagement and EA Readiness Decision phases help identify key issues early in the process, so investors can make informed decisions about the future path of the project.


11. Will the new environmental assessment (EA) process be longer than the current process?

No. The new Act tries to accomplish two things to assist in making the process more timely and predictable:

First, it introduces statutory timelines for a number of phases in the EA process where none exist in the current process, providing greater certainty than the current process.

Second, the addition of a mandatory early engagement phase is expected to increase certainty at later phases in the process and avoid suspensions/requests for more information.


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

For information on projects transitioning between the two acts, please see the Transition page.


13. How does the revitalized environment assessment process ensure that data and information provided during assessments is accurate and trustworthy?

Throughout every environmental assessment, there are a number of ways to ensure the accuracy and integrity of scientific data and evidence.

During the early engagement phase of the process, key issues are brought forward, potentially including concerns related to information independence. This helps draw the Environmental Assessment Office’s (EAO) attention to areas where integrity of data and information will be of particular interest and subject to scrutiny by interested parties. This enhanced focus can be reflected in the process planning phase.

During the process planning phase, Section 19 of the new Act brings together Indigenous nations, the EAO and the proponent to determine at the outset (with input from communities and the technical advisory committees) what information is required and how it will be collected and analysed.

Collaborative process planning at the outset ensures that all parties can have confidence in the credibility and rigour of the technical information provided and allows enough time for scrutiny. 

New provisions supporting independence in the process plan include:

  • The EAO can require information produced by the proponent be reviewed by a third party – e.g. peer review (19(2)(c)(ii)), in addition to the third party review already conducted by the Technical Advisory Committee
  • Information may be collected by a party other than the proponent (19(2)(c)(iv))
  • Qualifications (including in respect of impartiality) may be established for the above-noted peer reviewers and other parties (section 77(2)(e))

During the Effects Assessment phase, all information is subject to the scrutiny of the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) that provides third party scientific review of data and information. The TAC may include government and non-government experts (section 21)
Experts, mediators and consultants can be retained to provide independent advice to the Chief Executive Assessment Officer (section 26)
All of the data and analysis will, like today, be published on the EAO’s project information centre (EPIC) (section 40).  This includes the analysis in the assessment report and also the technical material provided by experts.


14. How will sustainability be reflected in the environmental assessment process?

Throughout the Environmental Assessment Office’s (EAO) engagement on Environmental Assessment (EA) Revitalization, we have heard that the promotion of sustainability through EAs is important to British Columbians. 
The new Act contains a defined purpose for the EAO that includes promoting sustainability by protecting the environment and fostering a sound economy and the well-being of British Columbians and their communities.  The Chief Executive Assessment Officer must include a recommendation to the Minister on if the project is consistent with the promotion of sustainability. 
Ministers must consider sustainability in making their decision to issue the project an EA Certificate. The Minister must also consider sustainability in a termination or exemption decision at the EA Readiness Decision phase.
Policy and operational guidance is being developed on how to fully implement the concept of sustainability in EAs. 


15. What compliance and enforcement changes will the revitalized environmental assessment process introduce and why?

The new environment assessment (EA) process will include a variety of changes that provide a broader, more modern, suite of tools to support compliance. These changes bring the new Act into alignment with other natural resource legislation in British Columbia and will contribute to enhancing public confidence in the Environmental Assessment Office’s (EAO) oversight of certified projects.   
Compliance and enforcement tools introduced by the new Act include:

  • Introduction of authority to issue tickets and administrative monetary penalties to provide the EAO with an enhanced suite of enforcement tools. 
  • Increased range of fines for court-imposed penalties to align with the provincial standard. 
  • Enabling the EAO to enter into agreements with other parties (including Indigenous nations) that can set out how the EAO will work with those organizations on compliance and enforcement activities.

16. Why are projects able to be exempted from environmental assessments? Didn't the public and environmental groups call for exemptions to be removed from the Act? 

During the Environmental Assessment Revitalization process, the Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) heard some suggestions that exemptions should no longer be an option. In response to what we heard there will be changes to the exemption process under the new Act.
In the same way that the regulation that sets out what projects are reviewable may not capture all projects that should receive an Environmental Assessment (EA), in some cases it may also capture projects that do not warrant an EA because the potential for the project to cause significant adverse effects is very low. 
In the new process, exemptions will only be available after an early engagement process has been conducted, which includes a request for an exemption from a proponent, public engagement, and a thorough review of the request from relevant government agencies, as well as Indigenous nations. 
Exemption decisions under the new Act will now be made by the Minister following a recommendation by the EAO. 

Projects that receive an exemption from a full environmental assessment would remain subject to any other approvals, authorizations or permits required by local, provincial and federal governments. 


17. How is free, prior and informed consent reflected in the revitalized environmental assessment (EA) process?

The Province is committed to implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UN Declaration) and is bringing the principles of the Declaration into action in the context of environmental assessment as it meets its commitment to revitalize the environmental assessment (EA) process.    
An integral aspect of the UN Declaration is consulting and cooperating in good faith with Indigenous peoples in order to obtain their free, prior and informed consent (Article 18). The new EA process is designed to ensure that any decision taken on the question of consent by an Indigenous nation is free, prior and informed. 
Respectful of their own Indigenous laws, traditions and right of self-determination, a key objective of the new EA process is to create the opportunity for Indigenous nations to make a decision on whether they consent to a project. It is an objective that proponents, the Province and Indigenous nations should be working to achieve. The new EA process facilitates that objective throughout the process.      
Free, prior and informed consent is not a veto. A recent report by the United Nations Human Rights Council entitled: Free, prior, and informed consent: a human rights-based approach study of the expert mechanism on the rights of Indigenous Peoples – shares the same view.  

The Act makes it clear that Ministers may decide to issue or withhold an EA certificate, even where that decision is not aligned with the consent decision of an Indigenous nation; however, Ministers must provide reasons for doing so.


18. What does a consent-based process mean?

A consent-based process as it applies to environmental assessments means: 

  • Indigenous nations have the opportunity to make a decision based on their own laws, traditions and right to self-determination 
  • Minister(s) must legally consider the issue of consent where it has been decided on by Indigenous nations 
  • Minister(s) are required to address consent in their legally required reasons for decision document

19. Who provides notice of consent on behalf of an Indigenous nation?

During the Environmental Assessment Office’s engagement on Environmental Assessment Revitalization, we heard that, consistent with Article 18 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Indigenous nations should have the opportunity to participate in decision-making in matters which would affect their rights. Indigenous nations may participate in these decisions through representatives chosen by themselves in accordance with their own procedures, maintaining their own indigenous decision-making institutions as they see fit, both at the technical level and the political level. 


20. What does consensus mean?

Consensus within the environmental assessment context represents an outcome that:

  • Is actively supported by all participating Indigenous nations and the EAO; or, 
  • Is not objected to by a participating Indigenous nation, while reserving their right to ultimately indicate their consent or lack of consent for a project after assessment.

21. What does it mean to seek consensus?

Seeking consensus within the environmental assessment process means cooperation between the Environmental Assessment Office and representatives of participating Indigenous nations to achieve consensus on process decisions or recommendations. Processes that seek consensus:

  • Inform, but are distinct from, a decision by an Indigenous nation to indicate their consent or lack of consent
  • Inform, but are distinct from, a decision by a statutory decision-maker under the Act
  • May be informed by, but are in addition to, Indigenous participation in any Technical Advisory Committee

22. Who is the Environmental Assessment Office required to seek to achieve consensus with?

During the Environmental Assessment Office’s engagement on Environmental Assessment Revitalization, we heard that, consistent with Article 18 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Indigenous nations should have the opportunity to participate in decision-making in matters which would affect their rights. Indigenous nations may participate in these decisions through representatives chosen by themselves in accordance with their own procedures, maintaining their own indigenous decision-making institutions as they see fit, both at the technical level and the political level. 


23. What was the Environmental Assessment Advisory Committee? How were these members selected?

The Environmental Assessment Advisory Committee was an independent forum that reviewed and made recommendations on B.C.'s current environmental assessment process. The Committee met ten times (over 75 hours) between March and April, 2018 and produced a report with 33 recommendations that seek to be workable for all parties in the environmental assessment process. 
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 non-governmental organizations, 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 invited based on their experience and expertise, representing a broad spectrum of experts who engage with environmental assessments. 

More information on the Committee can be found here.


24. What is the Revitalization Stakeholder Implementation Committee? How were members selected?

The Committee is an independent forum that reviews and makes recommendations on draft policies and regulations to support the new Environmental Assessment Act. Chaired by the Environmental Assessment Office (EAO), the Committee is comprised of representatives from a diverse selection of experienced environmental assessment (EA) participants to ensure a broad representation of perspectives on policies and regulations. Membership represents a cross section of industry, environmental non-governmental organizations, EA practitioners, local government, labour and former members of the Environmental Assessment Advisory Committee.
Committee members were invited based on their experience and expertise, representing a broad spectrum of experts who engage with environmental assessments. 
The Committee held their first meeting in April, 2019, and is anticipated to provide feedback on policies and regulations until they are finalized and the new Act is in force.

For a list of committee members, please see the Implementation Committee page.


25. What is the Revitalization Indigenous Implementation Committee? How were the members selected?

The Committee is an independent forum that reviews and makes recommendations from an Indigenous perspective on draft policies and regulations to support the new Environmental Assessment Act. The Committee is co-chaired by the Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) and a representative selected by the committee members (currently Ang Smith, who took over the role from Bob Chamberlain). The Committee is comprised of 14 committee members with relevant professional and personal expertise and experience representing a broad range of interests related to the environmental assessment process and regions of the province. Committee members are providing their personal perspectives and experiences within an environmental assessment context, and do not represent the position or opinions of any Indigenous nation or organization to which they may belong. Three members were nominated by the First Nations Leadership Council, and the other members were selected following a broad expression of interest process provided to all Indigenous nations in B.C. 
The committee first met in June, 2019, and is anticipated to provide feedback on policies and regulations until they are finalized and the new Act is in force.

For a list of committee members, please see the Implementation Committee page.
 


26. How does the Professional Governance Act intersect with the new Environmental Assessment Act?

Government’s review of Professional Reliance made recommendations on improving the professional reliance model broadly, which informed development and introduction of Bill 49 – The B.C. Professional Governance Act on October 22nd, 2018. 
While environmental assessments (EA) do not follow a professional reliance model (as the proponent’s work is reviewed independently during the EA), the Environmental Assessment Office is working diligently with its government colleagues to determine the applicability of the new Professional Governance Act to B.C.’s EA process. 


27. How does Environmental Assessment revitalization reflect land use plans?

Land use planning can provide an important input into environmental assessments. 
The revitalized environmental assessment process ensures that any relevant land use plan of the province, local government, or an indigenous nation is considered. 

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 the revitalized environmental assessment process. 


28. How does the proposed new process address climate change?

The revitalized environmental assessment (EA) process has mandatory assessment considerations, including an assessment of the impact of a project on B.C.’s greenhouse gas reduction targets.
Considering climate change and greenhouse gas emissions is not new to the EA process. The Environmental Assessment Office continues to build on current practice to ensure this important issue is appropriated considered in project-specific EAs.


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

Yes. The provincial decision on whether to issue an environmental assessment certificate will continue to be made by two elected Ministers and will be informed by the best available science and Indigenous knowledge obtained during the environmental assessment (EA), and prescribed decision-making factors set out in legislation.

It is anticipated that participating Indigenous nations in the EA will also choose to make a decision on whether the project should receive a certificate. Ministers must take these decisions into consideration and provide reasons if their decision does not align with the decision of participating Indigenous nations.
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 of Indigenous groups. Recognition of Indigenous groups’ decisions is a key aspect of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and government’s commitments to reconciliation. 

By legislating required matters for consideration in decision-making, the EA process becomes more transparent, giving all parties confidence that the things that matter to them will be considered.


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

Although the new Environmental Assessment Act legislation has passed, it is not expected to come into force until late 2019. There are a number of regulations and policies that still need to be developed, and we’re engaging the public, Indigenous nations, industry and stakeholders on key policies and regulations as they’re developed to make sure we continue to put forward practical solutions informed by feedback from those who are involved in and impacted by the environmental assessment process. The next round of public engagement is expected sometime in late summer 2019. More engagements will be announced as they become available on the public engagement page. For an overview of the steps in the revitalization process, check out this infographic.