OTTAWA – Two months after announcing the enactment of controversial regulations that will allow more than 2,000 projects across the country to evade legally required environmental assessments, the federal government has revealed that the number of projects being exempted from assessment will now be up to 14,000 over the next two years.
“It is clear that the Harper government is having troubles with basic mathematics,” said Ecojustice lawyer Justin Duncan. “In addition to a spiralling fiscal debt, they’re saddling Canadians with an environmental debt that may never be paid back.”
In April, Ecojustice launched a lawsuit on behalf of Sierra Club Canada claiming that the federal government acted unlawfully in issuing two federal regulations that gut the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA). The Federal Court has just allowed the groups to amend their filings to challenge the expanded exemption of 14,000 projects.
The lawsuit challenges the Exclusion List Regulations that exempt thousands of projects such as highways, bridges, roads and sewer systems from facing the scrutiny of legally required federal assessments over the next two years. The lawsuit also challenges the Adaptation Regulations that unlawfully give powers to the Minister of the Environment to exempt any other project from federal environmental assessment (EA) that is funded under the Building Canada Fund.
“EA is a key tool to identify and assess the adverse environmental effects of development projects so good decisions can be made” said Sierra Club Canada Executive Director Stephen Hazell, “in throwing 14,000 economic stimulus projects out of the EA process, the federal government is effectively saying we don’t want to know the environmental effects. Damn the environmental torpedoes, full speed ahead.”
CEAA was passed in 1992 to promote sustainable development by ensuring that federal decision makers have good information about the environmental impacts of projects and to ensure public participation in the environmental assessment process.
The government was served with formal notice on Monday that the groups seek to amend the lawsuit to include the expanded exemption list. The case is expected to be heard in Federal Court later this year.