Posted on January 18, 2010 (updated: January 18, 2010)

Regulations unlawfully gut key federal environmental law

Ecojustice has launched a lawsuit on behalf of Sierra Club Canada claiming that the federal government acted unlawfully in issuing two recent federal regulations that gut the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA).

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 EA that is funded under the Building Canada Fund.

“These changes to the law are like cutting the brake line to make a car go faster,” said Ecojustice lawyer Justin Duncan. “It is reckless, irresponsible and represents an extremely serious attack on Canada’s environmental assessment laws. None of the US, China or India have gotten rid of environmental assessment oversight in their economic stimulus plans.”

CEAA was passed in 1992 to promote sustainable development by ensuring that federal decision makers have good information about the environmental impacts of projects as well as ensuring public participation in the environmental assessment process.

“Federal environmental assessments are the legal equivalent of “looking before you leap,” added Ecojustice lawyer Albert Koehl. “You have to look no further than Wall Street to see the unintended impact of haphazard deregulation.”

“The Harper minority government is unlawfully usurping Parliament’s legislative role through the so-called Adaptation Regulations,” said Sierra Club Canada Executive Director Stephen Hazell. “CEAA plainly does not include the infamous “Henry VIII” clause that would allow the Harper government to override CEAA however it wants. The Conservative government of the day never sought the power to amend CEAA through regulations, and the 1992 Parliament never agreed to such a provision. I know; unlike Jim Prentice I was there.”

“The federal government is getting out of environmental assessment at the very time that sustainable development has become almost universally recognized as essential to human well-being in this century. I simply cannot understand why Minister Prentice is deliberately blinding himself to the environmental impacts of major infrastructure projects,” said Hazell.

The government was served with formal legal Notice of Application last week and the case is expected to be heard in Federal Court later this year.

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