Weak assessment laws put Canada at risk: Ecojustice

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Ottawa – Federal law must require assessment of worst-case scenarios such as nuclear meltdowns, offshore oil spills and tar-sands tailing dam breaches says Ecojustice, a Canadian not-for-profit environmental law group.

“Parliament must ensure that the risk of catastrophic events caused by nuclear reactors, deepwater oil drilling and tar sands mines are identified and rigorously assessed for all future energy projects,” said Stephen Hazell, Ecojustice lawyer. “It’s time to learn the lessons from Deepwater Horizon and the Fukushima meltdown and ensure that similar catastrophes do not happen in Canada.”

Ecojustice formally called on Parliament to strengthen the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA) through a brief submitted to the House of Commons Environment Committee earlier this week. The Environment Committee is scheduled to commence hearings for the required “seven-year review” of this legislation later in March.

“Parliament should reverse the Harper government’s systematic dismantling of environmental assessment law,”  said Will Amos, director of the uOttawa – Ecojustice environmental law clinic. “Canada needs protection that is at least as good as U.S. law on worst-case scenario assessment. Anything short of that represents an unacceptable risk for Canadians.”

In its brief, Ecojustice states that a new consensus is needed to address key issues facing federal environmental assessment. CEAA often fails to properly assess projects with critically important environmental effects (such as greenhouse gas emissions from tar sands mines) but also legally requires assessments of hundreds of small projects whose well-understood effects are minimal or can be mitigated.

Ecojustice recommends other amendments to strengthen federal environmental assessment laws such as:

  • Focusing assessments on overall sustainability of projects and not just the significance of any adverse environmental effects
  • Ensuring that environmental assessments of projects support achievement of stated federal environmental commitments and priorities, such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions and protecting water quality
  • Increasing public participation in federal environmental assessment, and funding to support such participation
  • Establishing a system of environmental assessment permits and prohibiting work on projects from proceeding  without such permits

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