Regulatory changes in Newfoundland and Labrador
It’s been an active few weeks in Newfoundland and Labrador as the provincial government strives to rectify the fiscal situation, fulfill climate change commitments, and promote economic growth. Three changes (two enacted, one to come) will affect the provincial environmental regulatory framework: reorganization of governmental departments, new emissions reporting requirements, and review of environmental assessment (EA) and permitting processes.
1. Realigned government departments
On February 22, 2017, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador announced a realigned government structure as part of the effort to restore fiscal balance . Two new departments of importance to those overseeing environmental aspects of projects are:
- Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment: the former Department of Environment and Climate Change has been dissolved, with Environment joining Municipal Affairs, and the Office of Climate Change being placed within the Executive Council.
- Department of Fisheries and Land Resources: replaces the former Department of Fisheries, Forestry and Agrifoods, with the following additions from other departments:
- Lands Branch (formerly under Department of Municipal Affairs)
- Wildlife Division (formerly under Department of Environment and Climate Change)
- Fish and Wildlife Enforcement Division (formerly under the Department of Justice and Public Safety)
The restructuring of these and other departments resulted in the elimination of 287 management positions, of which 90 positions were vacant . The main concerns I’ve heard are knowing who to contact for various planning and permitting needs, and how these changes will affect the Environment minister’s decision timeline on applications (already often taking longer than the 45-day period indicated in the Environmental Assessment Regulations). As positions and responsibilities are re-shuffled, and with the announcement of a review of our provincial EA process (which I discuss further below), it may be some time before we have clear direction.
2. New emissions reporting
The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador passed the Management of Greenhouse Gas Act in 2016. On March 7, 2017, the emission measurement and reporting requirements of the Act, as well as the attendant Management of Greenhouse Gas Reporting Regulations, came into effect. The Act focuses on emitters of at least 15,000 tonnes/year of CO2 (equivalent) from manufacturing and processing, mining and oil and gas extraction (excluding offshore oil and gas production), and electricity generation (excluding the Holyrood Generating Station) . The Regulations include how to quantify CO2 (equivalent), required contents for emissions reports, and how submitted results will be verified .
Remaining aspects of the Act are yet to be enacted (no indication yet of when that will be), but will include limits for those emitting at least 25,000 tonnes of CO2/year, establishment of a Greenhouse Gas and Reduction Fund and credit system, and creation of a compliance system (including inspection, punishable offences and fines) .
3. Review of environmental assessment and permitting processes
The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador launched Phase 2 of their Way Forward strategy on March 27, 2017. Among the many initiatives aimed at overcoming the province’s fiscal, social and economic challenges, the document lists three actions of interest to those engaged in EA in the province. The government says the timeline for completion of these actions is “in 2017-2018” .
- Review of the EA process – The government will review Part X (Environmental Assessment) of the Environmental Protection Act and the attendant Environmental Assessment Regulations. The review “will begin with a jurisdictional scan of relevant legislation, business processes and best practices in Canada” . The last review of the provincial EA process was carried out in 2002.
- Review of municipal and environmental permitting processes – The government will review several “key existing regulatory and legislative permitting and licensing processes.” The review process “will support more timely approvals for clients and stakeholders”.
- Establish requirements for Women’s Employment Plans  – Under the current EA process, proponents are asked to describe “how employment equity will be addressed relative to age and gender” , though there are no specific requirements in the Act or Regulations. It appears that the government will issue more specific expectations and reporting requirements on gender equitable employment.
Federal regulatory review
Along with these changes at the provincial level, there are also potential changes arising from the federal review of environmental and regulatory processes:
- Review of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act - the Expert Panel's report will be submitted to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change by March 31, 2017 .
- Review of the Fisheries Act – the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans presented their findings to the House of Commons on February 24, 2017 .
- Review of the Navigation Protection Act – the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities presented their findings to the House of Commons on March 23, 2017 .
- Review of the National Energy Board’s (NEB) structure, role and mandate under the National Energy Board Act – the Expert Panel’s report will be submitted to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change by May 15, 2017 .
It can be challenging when there are new or potential changes to a single regulation, let alone to several regulations at provincial and federal levels! Look to your environmental staff and consultants to keep you appraised of regulatory changes and to help you understand how your project may be affected.