Quebec Government Introduces Bill To Modernize Environmental Authorization Scheme
On 7 June 2016, the Quebec Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment, and the Fight against Climate Change, David Heurtel, at the Quebec National Assembly introduced Bill 1021, which aims at modernizing the environmental authorization scheme established by the Environment Quality Act. If adopted in its current form, this bill could have important repercussions on the environmental assessment procedure and on the authorization scheme of industrial projects carried out in Quebec.
The New Environmental Authorization Scheme
The bill proposes to substantially modify the requirements of environmental authorization. In this regard, the government proposes to further modulate permits requirements according to the level of environmental risk of each project:
- Activities of negligible risk will not need a ministerial authorization to be carried out. These activities will be identified by regulation or according to an assessment methodology that will be prescribed by regulation.
- Activities of low risk, the list of which will also be established by regulation, may be carried out without an authorization 30 days after the filing of a declaration of compliance to the Minister.
- Activities of moderate risk will be subject to the obligation of obtaining a ministerial authorization. This category targets any activity that does not fall under the other categories of activities.
- High-risk activities, identified by regulation, will require an authorization issued by the Quebec government following the environmental impact assessment and review procedure (EIA). The government may exceptionally subject any project to the EIA if, in its opinion, (i) the project may raise major environmental issues and public concern warrants it, (ii) the project involves a new technology or new type of activity in Quebec whose apprehended impacts on the environment are major, or (iii) the project involves major climate change issues.
The bill provides other measures streamlining the environmental authorization process including:
- The carrying out of an industrial project will only be subject to the obtaining of one ministerial authorization rather than multiple authorizations as is currently the case.
- The minister may mandate the Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement to hold a public hearing on a project subject to the EIA without any prior information period when the holding of such a hearing seems inevitable because of the nature of the issues raised, thus avoiding delays inherent to this information period.
- The bill will remove the requirement to obtain a certificate of compliance with municipal by-laws when filing an application for ministerial authorization.
- The minister may issue, on certain conditions, an authorization for research and experimental purposes to facilitate pilot projects, thus allowing to derogate from some regulatory requirements for a limited period.
- The prior authorization of the minister will no longer be required to transfer an authorization. However, the transferor must first send the minister a notice of transfer. The minister will then have 30 days to oppose the transfer.
To the contrary, the bill contains several measures that will tighten the framework of projects subject to an environmental authorization:
- The minister may, in the cases provided for by government regulation, take into account the greenhouse gas emissions attributable to the project and assess any impact mitigation a project may entail.
- The governmental authorizations may include diverse conditions, restrictions, or prohibitions for protecting the quality of the environment, including site-restoration measures and post-closure management on cessation of activities and measures to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions attributable to the activity, in particular the selection of a specific technology, process, or energy source.
- Any change to a residual materials elimination facility or a hazardous materials management activity will require a ministerial approval.
- An authorization to operate an industrial establishment will now be issued for a period of 5 years and will need to be renewed within the time and in the manner and form prescribed by regulation. An authorization will remain valid until the minister makes a decision with regard to its renewal.