Environmental Assessment in Southern Quebec
Projects subject to the Regulation include, among others, works in the aquatic environment, ports and wharfs, mines, industrial facilities, hazardous material treatment and disposal sites, power production facilities and power transmission lines, roads and highways, railroads and railway stations, airports, aerial pesticide spraying and waste disposal sites. In most cases, there is a threshold above which a project is subjected to the procedure.
The proponent files a written project notice with the Ministère de l’Environnement, de la Lutte contre les changements climatiques, de la Faune et des Parcs.
The Minister then sends guidelines specifying the requirements for the impact assessment statement, notably: project justification, project options, biophysical and human settings, impacts, mitigation measures, emergency response measures and monitoring and follow-up programs.
Following the Minister’s guidelines, the proponent prepares the environmental impact assessment statement.
Specialists from the Ministère, together with other departments and agencies, verify that all the elements required in the guidelines have been addressed in the impact statement.
Following this verification, the Ministère can address questions and comments to the proponent in order to complement and to clarify certain aspects of the impact statement before it is made public.
This phase of the procedure is conducted by the Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement (BAPE). All documents are made public for a 45-day period during which a person, a group or a municipality can request a public hearing from the Minister of the Environment. At the public hearing, the population can make inquiries and comments about the project. The BAPE then produces a report of its observations and analysis, which is forwarded to the Minister. There is a time limit of four months to the mandate given the BAPE to conduct the hearing and write its report. Within 60 days of its reception by the Minister, the report is made public.
In certain circumstances, the Minister can ask the BAPE to hold an environmental mediation.
Specialists from the Ministère, working with specialists from other departments and agencies, analyze the project in order to advise the Minister with respect to the environmental acceptability of the project and the relevance of carrying it out as well as, if need be, the conditions regarding its authorization.
This analysis considers, notably, the reasons justifying the project and its anticipated impacts on the biophysical and human settings.
Based on the report from the BAPE (phase 3) and on the environmental analysis report (phase 4), the Minister of the Environment analyses the project and makes his recommendations to the government. By Order in Council, the government can authorize the project (with or without modifications and conditions) or reject it. Furthermore, before implementation of the project, the proponent must submit its plans and specifications to the Ministère in order to obtain a certificate of authorization.
Monitoring is the proponent’s responsibility and consists of ensuring that the project is carried out according to government and ministerial authorizations. The proponent is responsible as well for the follow-up program which aims to ascertain the accuracy of the impacts anticipated in the impact assessment statement, particularly where some uncertainties remain, and to evaluate the effectiveness of the mitigation measures. The responsibility of the Ministère is to control all phases of the project (construction, operation and shut-down). When necessary, the proponent files monitoring and follow-up reports with the Ministère.
By its preventive nature, environmental assessment is a development planning exercise aiming to ensure the sustainability of land and resources use. Prior to the realization of development projects, it allows for the consideration, analysis and interpretation of all factors affecting the ecosystems, the resources and the quality of life of individuals and communities. Moreover, by giving public hearings and environmental mediation a large place in the process, environmental assessment in Québec relies upon the values of individuals, groups and communities. Consequently, projects are improved and their impacts on the human and biophysical environment are kept to a minimum.
Ever since the regulation was implemented, the practice of environmental assessment has greatly evolved. For example, sectoral guidelines defining the elements of an environmental impact statement have been developed for the types of projects most frequently processed by the Ministère. Established following consultations with other departments and with environmental, professional and proponent groups, these guidelines particularly encourage the project proponent to adopt his own environmental policy and consult with the public at the earliest stages of the process.
Also, in order to assist a project proponent in producing a better environmental impact statement, specific technical guides were developed, particularly in relation to technological risk assessment and environmental follow-up programs.
In an ongoing effort to improve and modernize the environmental impact assessment and review process and public participation process, a procedural analysis was carried out over the past two years by a committee composed of Ministère representatives, representatives from the Bureau of Environmental Public Hearings (BAPE) and external members, who are experts in the field. Subsequent to its work, the committee filed a report to the Minister in December 2014.
The committee focused on concrete solutions for maintaining the procedure’s credibility and relevance while at the same time streamlining it, increasing its efficiency and making it more transparent. In its report, the committee recommends measures aimed at ensuring that the procedure continues to be effective in protecting the environment, adequately addresses the concerns of citizens and assists in government decision making for projects likely to have major impacts on the environment and communities.
Establishing the procedure has allowed the development of environmental expertise in Québec: specialized firms were created, many companies have adopted their own environmental codes and universities have integrated environmental assessment to their curriculum.
Moreover, the Ministère plays an active part at the international level, notably as a founding member of the Secrétariat Francophone of the International Association for Impact Assessment, whose headquarters are in Montréal, by taking part in training courses in French-speaking Africa and by regularly welcoming foreign visitors interested in the Québec model.