Modernizing Ontario’s environmental assessment program
Learn about our plan to modernize the environmental assessment program.
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Update: Ontario is moving forward with proposals to modernize Ontario’s environmental assessment program. Learn more about our plan to:
Ontario is taking continued action to modernize its almost 50-year-old environmental assessment (EA) program.
Environmental assessments ensure that project proponents consider potential environmental effects before infrastructure projects can begin, such as provincial highways, landfills, transmission lines or power plants.
The current process for comprehensive environmental assessments does not reflect best practices. It places undue burden on proponents which:
- may not lead to environmental benefits
- results in unnecessary cost for critical infrastructure projects
That’s why we are proposing changes to our environmental assessment program. The new program will:
- maintain environmental oversight while reducing delays on infrastructure projects that matter most to Ontario communities
- consider the input of local communities
- support development and economic growth while continuing to protect the environment
Progress to date
In 2019, we presented our vision for a more modern and efficient EA program in our 2019 Modernizing Ontario’s Environmental Assessment Program discussion paper. We launched consultations with industry, municipalities, Indigenous communities and the public.
Following these consultations, we made changes to the Environmental Assessment Act through Bill 108, More Homes, More Choice Act, 2019. These changes exempted low-impact projects, such as bike lanes and roadside parks, from environmental assessment requirements.
In July 2020, the COVID‑19 Economic Recovery Act, 2020, amended the Environmental Assessment Act, allowing us to begin transforming the EA program. Amendments to the section 16 order process, provisions that require applicants for new large landfills to obtain municipal support from host and certain adjacent municipalities as part of the approval process, and other amendments have already taken effect. The ministry will be moving forward with developing and consulting on implementing regulations and other modernization initiatives to:
- clearly identify the projects that require an environmental assessment
- replace class environmental assessments with a streamlined assessment framework that has consistent requirements
- reduce the amount of time it takes to complete the comprehensive EA process from six years on average to three years
- allow for online submissions of environmental assessments to improve accessibility, timelines and sharing of information
- develop standardized work plans for selected sectors to get important infrastructure built faster
- improve coordination of provincial and federal environmental assessments
Learn more about these changes on the Environmental Registry of Ontario.
In December 2021 we made a minor amendment to the Environmental Assessment Act to make it clearer that the Act’s authority includes changing the types of projects that can follow a class environmental assessment process.
We also made changes that would eliminate duplication and reduce delay for projects that have other planning and consultation processes, or for which the EA process can be further streamlined, including:
- Projects related to land claim settlements and other agreements with Indigenous communities that were previously required to go through Class EA processes.
- Forest management activities covered by Declaration Order MNR-75 are no longer subject to the requirements of the Environmental Assessment Act. Declaration Order MNR-75 has been revoked.
- Thermal treatment projects engaging in advanced recycling can now follow the streamlined EA process set out in the Guide to Environmental Assessment Requirements for Waste Management Projects, if thresholds based on tonnage treated and recovery rate are met.
- Regulations to modify the existing environmental assessment process for four priority transit projects associated with the Building Transit Faster Act in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area.
- The Bradford Bypass was exempted from requirements of the Environmental Assessment Act subject to conditions, to allow it to be built in a timely way.
As part of the Reducing Inefficiencies Act (Infrastructure Statute Law Amendments), 2023, introduced on February 27, 2023, we amended the Environmental Assessment Act to provide the minister with the authority to waive or alter the 30-day waiting period upon completion of a class environmental assessment. This amendment allows projects to proceed up to 30 days faster, on a project-specific basis, if needed, but only after the Class EA process has been completed (including the comment period).
Class environmental assessments
To safeguard the environment, proponents of projects that follow a streamlined or class EA process are required to:
- consult with Indigenous communities, the public and stakeholders
- complete an environmental assessment
- develop mitigation measures
- document the findings in a report
Building on the More Homes, More Choice Act, 2019, we consulted on changes proposed by proponents of eight class environmental assessments. These changes to class environmental assessments will:
- better align study requirements with the potential for environmental impacts
- increase efficiency in class environmental assessment processes
- reduce duplication with other legislation, planning or approvals processes
- inform the development of new streamlined environmental assessment regulations that we may make since proposed amendments to the Environmental Assessment Act
- allow us to focus on projects with the potential to impact the environment and communities
We also made administrative amendments to Class EAs to ensure proper alignment with the proposed changes to the Environmental Assessment Act. Learn more about these proposed administrative amendments.
Three amended Class EAs have been approved to date. Amendments to Class EA for Minor Transmission Facilities and Class EA for Waterpower projects were approved on July 22 and February 24, 2022, respectively. Amendments to the Municipal Class EA were approved on March 3, 2023. Other amendment proposals remain under review and decisions will be posted on the Environmental Registry in the coming months.
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We are now evaluating the requirements for municipal road, water and wastewater projects that are currently subject to the Municipal Class EA.
Proposed regulation for a comprehensive environmental assessment projects list
In 2020 and 2021, we consulted with Indigenous communities, stakeholders and the general public on a draft list of projects that would be subject to the comprehensive environmental assessment provisions (Part II.3) of the amended Act and continue to discuss the proposal with Indigenous communities.
This change would:
- help clarify what projects require a comprehensive environmental assessment
- ensure important infrastructure projects can be built faster
Only projects on the comprehensive environmental assessment project list will be required to complete a comprehensive assessment. Some projects that currently require a comprehensive environmental assessment would follow a streamlined process, such as a class environmental assessment. If the projects are subject to a current streamlined process those requirements will not be changed by the project list regulation.
The shift to a project list approach would ensure environmental safeguards are in place and reduce red tape for municipalities, industry and government agencies. Until this regulation is in effect, the Environmental Assessment Act will continue to apply as it does currently.
Share your feedback
We are now consulting on updates to the previous proposals in four areas:
- multi-lane highways
- electricity transmission
- waterfront projects
Learn more and provide your feedback about our current proposal for a comprehensive environmental assessment projects regulation.
Proposal to extend the expiry date of Environmental Assessment Act approvals
Included in the amendments to the Environmental Assessment Act made in 2020 was the addition of the ability to identify an expiry date for historic approvals that did not otherwise have an expiry date. The amendments also allow for the Minister to issue a notice to extend these approvals. These amendments have not yet been proclaimed.
In anticipation of a future proclamation of the expiry date section, in November 2021, we consulted on a proposal to extend the expiry date of Environmental Assessment Act approvals by 10 years for certain older projects.
We reviewed the conditions of the approvals for these projects to confirm the appropriate environmental protection measures are in place. If the approvals are extended, these projects can continue without needing to complete a new environmental assessment, subject to any other permits and approvals required.
Extending expiry dates will:
- allow important infrastructure projects like transit and highways to be built without delay
- support our growing communities
Learn more about the proposal to extend the expiry date of certain environmental assessment approvals. We are now considering input we received on this proposal and until the provisions are proclaimed, the approvals for projects which do not have an expiry date remain valid.
Projects related to provincial parks and conservation reserves
We plan to move forward with an Environmental Impact Assessment Policy under the Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves Act. This policy provides:
- a mechanism to assess environmental effects and consult with Indigenous communities, government agencies, and the public for projects
- a process through which the Crown may fulfill its duty to consult, where applicable, for projects to which the policy applies
This proposal remains under review. For more information, see the Environmental Registry posting.