More changes to federal environmental assessment laws on the horizon

More changes to federal environmental assessment laws on the horizon

More changes to federal environmental assessment laws on the horizon


The federal government has recently proposed amendments to the Regulations Designating Physical Activities (RDPA) which are central to the operation of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012. With the exception of individual projects designated by the Minister on a discretionary basis, only those projects which appear on the RDPA may be subject to federal environmental assessment.

The federal environmental assessment amendments will result in the addition of some projects to the RDPA. These additions include diamond mines, apatite mines, railway yards, international and interprovincial bridges and tunnels, bridges that cross the St. Lawrence Seaway, the first offshore exploratory wells in Exploration Licence areas and expansions to oil sands mines.

Unfortunately, the list of projects being removed from the RDPA is much larger. Those items that will no longer be subject to federal environmental assessment include:

  • ground water extraction facilities,
  • heavy oil and oil sands processing facilities,
  • pipelines and electrical transmission lines not regulated by the NEB,
  • potash mines and other industrial mineral mines (salt, graphite, gypsum, magnetite, limestone, clay, asbestos), and
  • a variety of industrial facilities (pulp and paper mills, steel mills, metal smelters, leather tanneries, textile mills and facilities for the manufacture of chemicals, pharmaceuticals, pressure-treated wood, particle-board and plywood, chemical explosives, lead acid batteries and respirable mineral fibres).

It is disappointing that projects – including oil and gas seismic activities in marine areas, oilsands steam assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) projects and projects within national parks – suggested for inclusion in the RPDA in our previous comments do not form part of the draft regulations.

The federal government is seeking comments on the proposed amendments by May 20th. The proposed amendments, along with the process to submit comments, can be viewed here.

The federal government also has changes in store for environmental assessment in Nunavut. Currently, the environmental assessment process in Nunavut is conducted by the Nunavut Impact Review Board established under Articles 10 and 12 of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement.

With Bill C-47, the federal government intends to enact the Nunavut Planning and Project Assessment Act. This act is intended to confirm the establishment of the Nunavut Impact Review Board (and also the Nunavut Planning Commission) and to describe the processes under which these bodies will operate. As well, the act is intended to establish a more streamlined process for environmental assessments and land-use approvals in Nunavut.

Currently, Bill C-47 has passed through the House of Commons and is working its way through the Senate. The status and text of Bill C-47 can be accessed on the LEGISinfo website.




The Environmental Law Centre (ELC) has been seeking strong and effective environmental laws since it was founded in 1982. The ELC is dedicated to providing credible, comprehensive and objective legal information regarding natural resources, energy and environmental law, policy and regulation in Alberta. The ELC’s mission is to educate and champion for strong laws and rights so all Albertans can enjoy clean water, clean air and a healthy environment. Our vision is a society where laws secure an environment that sustains current and future generations.

As a charity, the Environmental Law Centre depends on your financial support. Help us to continue to educate and champion for strong environmental laws, through tools such as our blog and all of our other resources, so that all Albertans can enjoy a healthy environment. Your support makes a difference.
Donate online today


Share this:
  • What might the future of Canada’s environmental laws and policies hold? A look at the federal Liberal environmental platform | Environmental Law Center
    Posted at 18:33h, 14 November Reply

    […] changes made to federal environmental laws in recent years (see our past posts: here, here, here, here and here) the ELC would definitely welcome a review of regulatory laws, policies and […]

  • 2013: environmental law and policy, the year in brief ….may 2014 bring us greater environmental protection | Environmental Law Centre (Alberta)
    Posted at 09:51h, 31 December Reply

    […] continued emasculation of federal environmental assessments through changes to the Regulations Designating Physical Activities  under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act […]

  • An Update on Amendments to Federal Environmental Assessment Laws | Environmental Law Centre (Alberta)
    Posted at 17:12h, 12 November Reply

    […] May, we provided a summary of the proposed amendments and our concerns on this blog. There is little difference between the amendments as proposed and the […]

  • Brenda Heelan Powell
    Posted at 09:49h, 07 May Reply

    Hi Again Barry

    If the amendments are passed as proposed, the regulations will include new oil sands mines with a bitumen production capacity of 10,000 m3 per day or more. As well, the regulations will include expansion of an existing oil sands mine that would result in a 50% or more increase in the mine area and a total bitumen production capacity of 10,000 m3 per day or more.

    Heavy oil and oil sands processing facilities will no longer be included in the regulations. Nor would in situ oil sands operations be included.

    Under CEAA, 2012, there is the possibility for the Minister to direct environmental assessment of a project that is not on the list. However, this process is at the discretion of the minister.


  • Barry
    Posted at 09:07h, 06 May Reply

    do you have a source for the “recently proposed amendments to the Regulations Designating Physical Activities (RDPA)”? i have looked around but can’t come across anything.

    • Brenda Heelan Powell
      Posted at 09:24h, 06 May Reply

      Hi Barry

      Thanks for your question.

      The best source to look at is the Regulatory Impact Analysis Statement (RIAS) that accompanied the public notice regarding the proposed amendments. This document and the regulations can be obtained online at (the CEAA Agency website). In particular look at page 3 of the RIAS.


      • Barry
        Posted at 09:43h, 06 May Reply

        thanks Brenda, one more quick question if you don’t mind? that link tells me that additions will be made to cover “expansions to oil sands mines.”
        and then later on, deletions include:

        “and treating appropriately oil sands projects, including in situ oil sands projects”

        if i understand it correctly, it seems that this shift in language essentially excuses in situ development from the process and implicitly says it is as environmentally benign as conventional production?

        new surface mines will not occur due to already poor project economics, and only expansions will be suitable so the surface mining aspect of this has little relevance in practice i think.

        the in-situ exclusions along with the groundwater extraction exclusion is a big deal since many in situ producers will rely on groundwater.

Post A Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Subscribe For Latest Updates
You'll get an email whenever we publish a new post on our blog.