Project Impact Assessments: Triggering and Coverage

AuthorSteph en Hazell
 7
ProjectImpact Assessments:
Triggering and Coverage
Stephen Hazell
Any law is eective only to the extent to which it is applied. Thus, any
law that is directed primarily to assessing the impacts of proposed
development projects is eective only to the extent to which that law is
applied to projects that warrant assessment. The rules for determining
which categories of projects are to be assessed under the law (triggering)
and the breadth of application of the law to the wide variety of develop-
ment projects being considered by proponents (coverage) are arguably
as important as the rules for the assessment process itself.
Two questions guide this chapter. First, how eectively are the
purposes of the Impact Assessment Act (IAA)1 likely to be met given the
triggering process and coverage of projects under the IAA and its regu-
lations? Second, do the triggering and coverage provisions facilitate its
use in practice in addressing the acknowledged crises of climate change
and biodiversity loss?
This chapter addresses the process of triggering of projects for
impact assessment under the IAA, considering how impact assessments
are triggered and how the triggering process under the IAA diers from
previous laws. Next, the chapter reviews the regulatory authority and
key policies the government says it applied to designate projects for
1 SC 2019, c 28, s 1.
ProjectImpact Assessments: Triggering and Coverage | 141
inclusion on the Physical Activities Regulations (Project List),2 as well as
the lack of transparency in applying these policies to the development
of the Project List. Finally, the chapter reviews the categories of pro-
jects with related thresholds that are included on the Project List and
assesses whether or not as written it advances the purposes of the IAA
and eorts to address climate change and biodiversity loss.
The chapter focuses on triggering and coverage relating to the
impact assessments of projects as well as to determinations by federal
authorities of the signicance of the adverse environmental eects of
projects to be carried out on federal lands or outside Canada.3 Trig-
gering and coverage issues relating to strategic and regional assessment
processes are addressed in chapters 11 and 17.
Triggering refers to the process for determining which categories of
projects are subject to an impact assessment. Federal assessment laws
have used one of two broad approaches to triggering. The rst approach,
“all in unless excluded,” provides that all projects that have an aspect
falling under federal jurisdiction are subject to impact assessment
unless excluded by statute or regulation.
The Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA 1995)4 used the “all
in unless excluded” approach for triggering undertakings in relation to
physical works. Undertakings in relation to physical works were excluded
if they were to be carried out in response to emergencies, for reasons
of national security,5 or if they had insignicant environmental eects.6
Physical activities not in relation to physical works (e.g., low-level ying
2 SOR/2019-285.
3 IAA, above note 1, ss 82–91.
4 SC 1992, c 37. The entry into force of the Act was delayed until 1995 to allow for key
regulations to be developed and passed.
5 Ibid, s 59. See Meinhard Doelle, The Federal Environmental Process: A Critique and Guide
(Toronto: LexisNexis Canada, 2008) at 83–84 and 86–87 for a more detailed discussion
of triggering under CEAA 1995.
6 CEAA 1995, above note 4, s 59(c)(ii); Exclusion List Regulations, SOR2/2007-108 (repealed)
(regulations prescribing those projects and classes of projects for which an environ-
mental assessment is not required).

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