Overview

Ontario is moving forward with a proposed set of legislative, regulatory and policy changes to help build safer and stronger communities by updating the 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.

However, the current process for comprehensive environmental assessments can be slow and ineffective. This can slow down important infrastructure projects that help Ontario communities, such as installing electricity infrastructure.

That’s why we are proposing changes to our environmental assessment program. The new program will:

  • ensure strong environmental oversight while reducing delays on infrastructure projects that matter most to Ontario communities
  • consider the input of local communities
  • ensures strong environmental oversight by focusing on projects that have the highest impact to 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.

We have exempted projects related to land claim settlements, and other agreements with Indigenous communities from environmental assessment requirements. This will allow the Ministry of Indigenous Affairs to be the primary source of guidance.

To enable the Bradford Bypass project to be built in a timely way that ensures continued protection of the environment without duplicating requirements that slow down the project, we have exempted the Bradford Bypass from requirements of the Environmental Assessment Act subject to conditions, as appropriate.

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.

To safeguard the environment, projects that currently follow the Class EA process require consultation with Indigenous communities, the public, and stakeholders, assessment of the environment, development of mitigation measures and documentation of the findings in a report.

Effective January 1, 2022, we are updating the thresholds for electricity transmission line projects. These changes will allow more projects to follow a streamlined class EA process instead of an individual EA.

Proposed changes

Class environmental assessments

Building on the More Homes, More Choice Act, 2019, we consulted on changes proposed by proponents of eight class environmental assessments. If approved, these proposed 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

Learn more about the changes proposed by proponents to class environmental assessments.

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.

Environmental Assessment Act

As part of the government’s COVID-19 Economic Recovery Act, 2020, we have made changes to the Environmental Assessment Act that will help us build a modern environmental assessment program that supports strong environmental oversight and a strong economy. These changes would:

  • allow the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP) to clearly identify projects that require an environmental assessment
  • replace class environmental assessments with a streamlined assessments framework that have consistent requirements
  • reduce the amount of time it takes to complete the comprehensive EA process from six years on average to three years
  • enable online submissions of environmental assessments to improve accessibility, timelines and sharing of information
  • standardize work plans for selected sectors to get important infrastructure, such as large electricity lines, built faster
  • require applicants for new large landfills to obtain municipal support from host and certain nearby adjacent municipalities as part of the approval process
  • improve coordination of provincial and federal environmental assessments

We will be developing and consulting on regulations in the coming months as these changes to the Environmental Assessment Act were passed on July 21, 2020.

Learn more about these changes on the Environmental Registry of Ontario.

Proposed regulation for a comprehensive environmental assessment projects

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
  • put more focus on projects that have the highest impact on the environment
  • 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. If the projects are subject to a current streamlined process, such as a class environmental assessment, those requirements will not be changed by the project list regulation.

Learn more about our proposal from 2020 for a comprehensive environmental assessment project list.

Following this initial consultation in 2020, we are now consulting on the draft comprehensive environmental assessment project list regulation. This draft regulation will list the projects that will be subject to the comprehensive environmental assessment provisions (Part II.3) of the Act.

Until this regulation is in effect, the Environmental Assessment Act will continue to apply as it does currently. Learn more and provide your feedback about our current proposal for a comprehensive environmental assessment projects 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.

You can comment from November 26, 2021 to January 25, 2022.

Proposal to extend the expiry date of Environmental Assessment Act approvals

We are now seeking your feedback 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.

You can comment from November 26 to January 25, 2022.

Exempting regulations

We proposed changes that would eliminate duplication and reduce delay for projects that have been part of other planning and consultation processes or for which the EA process can be further streamlined.

We proposed to exempt the following projects from the requirements of the Environmental Assessment Act:

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 would:

  • replace the requirements under the Class EA
  • provide a similar process for impact assessment and consultation of projects within protected areas

This proposal remains under review. For more information, read the Environmental Registry posting.

Exemptions for highway projects

We proposed to exempt specific Ministry of Transportation road projects from the requirements of the Environmental Assessment Act (subject to conditions), including the:

We also proposed a regulation to update the existing environmental assessment process for the GTA West Transportation Corridor project. This regulation would create, through an exemption, a new streamlined process for assessing potential environmental impacts and consultation. We are currently considering all the comments and feedback that we have received to date.

The proposed changes will make the EA process more efficient, shorten timelines and eliminate duplication with other planning and approvals processes.

Benefits of modernization

Under the proposed environmental assessment process:

The proponent will use a standardized Terms of Reference (for eligible sectors), allowing them to prepare, submit and get a decision on a Terms of Reference in six months (down from two years).

 

The proponent can conduct an environmental assessment, consult with stakeholders and submit to the ministry in under two years (down from over two years).

 

The ministry will review the environmental assessment and post the review for consultation within nine months (down from over a year).

 

The minister will have one month to decide whether the project will proceed or not (down from over a year) and will have to provide a rationale and new timeline for a decision if that timeline was not met.