Scientists find government justification of new environmental policy unfounded

Apr 02, 2013

Recent efforts by the Canadian government to curb the time allowed for environmental reviews over fears of adverse impact on economic development are misguided and unnecessary, according to research by scientists at the University of Toronto. Instead, the federal government's tinkering will only weaken environmental protection and not expedite economic growth.

The researchers found that most environmental regulatory reviews were already being completed within the arbitrary timeframes laid out in the 2012 legislation restricting the reviews of new developments.

"Even before the significant changes to federal environmental oversight introduced last year, the majority of submissions reviewed under the Fisheries Act in the previous 10 years were processed within one to two years," says Dak de Kerckhove, a PhD candidate in U of T's Department of Ecology and . "This is the same length of time prescribed by the newly revised Canadian Environmental Assessment Act."

The federal government has justified sweeping changes to the country's environmental protection policy by stating that the review process was slow and inefficient, but provided no evidence apart from the testimony of a handful of representatives of the resource extraction and energy sectors.

So, de Kerckhove and faculty members Ken Minns and Brian Shuter examined environmental reviews from 2001 to 2011, comparing the number of requests for reviews in a particular year with the number of reviews completed in the same fiscal year. They found no evidence that regulatory review in Canada was inefficient, even when regulators had an ongoing load of over 600 projects for review at any given time.

"While it is possible that a minority of projects take longer to assess, we found no major backlogs in processing higher loads of reviews," says de Kerckhove. "And in comparison with the few examples available from the United States, Canada was much quicker at reviewing projects."

"Arbitrary changes would therefore not expedite the review of the majority of projects, and may instead rubber-stamp those few projects that actually merit more in-depth reviews because of their potential to cause greater environmental damages," he adds.

The researchers focused on the Fisheries Act for the study because it mandates a high load of environmental reviews, has been identified as a contributor to the potentially long federal review times, and has had its legislative powers reduced recently. The study, published in the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, is the first independent and empirical estimate of environmental regulatory review times in Canada under the act.

"Assessments can be timely as long as regulators have the resources needed to do the job well," says Minns. "But recent layoffs in the federal sector have drastically reduced the number of reviewers, which has been identified as the cause of regulatory delays for large scale projects such as the Enbridge Gateway Pipeline."

The researchers offer three recommendations to replace the latest attempt at restricting environmental oversight:

  • develop a set of standardized environmental assessment methods at the federal level so as to provide regulators with uniform data for review;
  • support efforts to streamline the administration of regulation across different jurisdictions and remove duplicated review processes among federal agencies with competing interests;
  • conduct more empirical studies on review times to anticipate and mitigate sources of common delays during high economic activity, as is done in the construction sector.
"Governments should recognize that environmental oversight is a necessary and valuable component of the approval process for development projects, and that alternate options exist for managing the submission load aside from weakening ," says de Kerckhove.

"Everyone's interests should be properly assessed when economic activities overlap with ecological and social concerns in natural environments," says Minns.

Explore further: 'Doing nothing' to maintain the dunes on Ameland does not affect coastal safety

More information: The article titled "The length of environmental review in Canada under the Fisheries Act" is published online in the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences at www.nrcresearchpress.com/doi/a… 12-0411#.UVntSFcTQbt

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

In drug-approval race, US FDA ahead of Canada, Europe

May 16, 2012

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) generally approves drug therapies faster and earlier than its counterparts in Canada and Europe, according to a new study by Yale School of Medicine researchers. The study counters ...

Scientists engage Science in fisheries debate

Jun 21, 2012

Three Simon Fraser University scientists are engaging in a verbal battle with the federal government over its budget cuts and legislative changes in departments with environmental responsibilities, on a powerful stage.

Feds, 5 states to push for Great Lakes wind farms

Mar 30, 2012

(AP) -- The Obama administration and five states have reached an agreement to speed up approval of offshore wind farms in the Great Lakes, which have been delayed by cost concerns and public opposition.

How should systematic reviews consider evidence on harms?

May 03, 2011

Systematic reviews that attempt to assess the risk of harms (adverse effects) associated with specific therapies should consider a broad range of study designs, including both systematic reviews and observational studies. ...

Federal peer review may be overstretched and error prone

Jan 10, 2011

The federal peer review system, by which research proposals are judged worthy for funding, may be "over stretched" and "susceptible to error," said Elmer Yglesias, a researcher at the Science and Technology Policy Institute ...

Recommended for you

Australia approves huge India-backed mine

42 minutes ago

Australia has given the go-ahead to a massive coal mine in Queensland state which Environment Minister Greg Hunt said Monday could ultimately provide electricity for up to 100 million Indians.

Phytoplankton use turbulence to survive

1 hour ago

A unique water profiling instrument developed by The University of Western Australia's Centre for Water Research (CWR) is enabling scientists to understand the impact of even the most subtle turbulence on ...

User comments : 0