Environmental Assessment Office

Frequently Asked Questions

Below is a list of frequently asked questions about the Environmental Assessment Office and the Environmental Assessment process.

The Questions

What proportion of projects are approved, refused or do not get referred to Ministers for decision?

The EAO Statistics web page provides a breakdown of the projects where:

  • The Executive Director determined an EA was not required;
  • Projects that have been approved;
  • Projects under review and active;
  • Projects under review and inactive;
  • Projects terminated or withdrawn; and
  • Projects refused certification.

A project may be officially terminated by the EAO when a proponent, after being requested to provide information about a project, does not provide the information within a prescribed time period. A project may also be withdrawn voluntarily by a proponent. If ministers make a decision to order further assessment be carried out on a project, following a referral of an application to ministers for a decision on issuance of an EA certificate, that project remains in the active category, or may become inactive as described below.

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What does it mean if a project is 'inactive'?

Inactive projects are defined as those where a proponent has temporarily stopped collecting information, holding meetings or preparing documents to advance an environmental assessment, such that no EA staff time has been required on the file for a period of 26 weeks. A project may be inactive if the proponent has not been able to resolve problems to the satisfaction of the EAO and government agencies. In other cases, a project may be inactive due to the proponents internal corporate reasons, such as changing corporate priorities, or depressed market conditions or an inability to finance the project, or there may be a combination of economic and technical factors.

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Why are so few projects refused an Environmental Assessment Certificate?

The EA for a proposed Project is an iterative process where the EAO and the working group provides regular feedback to the proponent regarding their Application. The intent is to address all issues satisfactorily such that there are no residual adverse impacts that would prevent an EA certificate from being issued. In most cases, this is achieved in the EA process.

If any issues remain outstanding or are not being addressed satisfactorily, EAO will inform the proponent and work with them to find satisfactory solutions. This may lead to a project becoming inactive while the proponent considers if a solution can be found to an outstanding issue. EAO would not normally refer a proposed project to ministers for a decision with outstanding issues. In response to any project application referral, ministers can choose to issue an EA certificate, refuse to issue an EA certificate, or order further assessment be carried out on the project.

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What is an Environmental Assessment?

B.C.'s environmental assessment (EA) process provides a mechanism for reviewing major projects to assess their potential impacts. In order for a major project to proceed, an EA review must be completed successfully and the proposed project must be approved by two provincial government Ministers.

The EA process addresses a broad range of environmental, economic, social, health and heritage issues through a single, integrated process. It ensures that the issues and concerns of all interested parties and First Nations are considered together, and that a project, if it is to proceed, will do so in a sustainable manner.

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Are all Projects that go to the Environmental Assessment Office Recommended for Approval?

No. It is important to remember that the EAO will only refer a project to Ministers for a decision once it is satisfied that:

  • federal and provincial government assessment and impact management expectations have been addressed;
  • there has been appropriate consultation with First Nations that may be impacted by the project and that those First Nations' interests have been appropriately considered and addressed; and
  • there has been appropriate public consultation and issues raised by the public that are within the scope of the review have been appropriately considered and addressed.

Once the EAO and government agencies agree that all reasonable efforts have been made by the proponent to resolve concerns, the EAO believes that it is appropriate to ask Ministers to make their decision, weighing outstanding concerns together with other factors. Any outstanding concerns expressed by other parties are fully documented in the assessment report prepared by the EAO for the Ministers.

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Why is the Environmental Assessment Process Necessary?

B.C.'s EA process is important to ensure that major projects meet the goals of environmental, economic and social sustainability. The assessment process is also needed to ensure that the issues and concerns of the public, First Nations, stakeholders, and government agencies are considered.

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What is the B.C. Environmental Assessment Act?

The B.C. Environmental Assessment Act (the Act) is the legal framework for the province's Environmental Assessment (EA) process for proposed major projects. The Act is supported by several regulations, including the Reviewable Projects Regulation, as well as a variety of policy, procedure and technical guidelines.

Once a project is reviewed and approved, the proponent is granted an EA certificate by two provincial Ministers (one of which is the Minister of Environment). This approval is required before any decisions can be made on permits and other approvals that are required to construct and operate a large-scale project in B.C.

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What is the Mandate of the Environmental Assessment Office?

The Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) is an independent provincial agency responsible for conducting Environmental Assessments , and administering the B.C. Environmental Assessment Act. EAO leads major project reviews and prepares an assessment report detailing the findings of its review, which may also contain recommendations. The report, along with the project application, is referred to two government Ministers, who decide on project approval. Once approved, an EA certificate is issued.

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What Kind of Major Projects are Assessed by the Environmental Assessment Office?

The kinds of Major Projects that the Environmental Assessment Office could assess include the following:

  1. Industrial projects: chemical manufacturing, primary metal and forest product industries;
  2. Energy projects: power plants, electric transmission lines, natural gas processing or storage plants and transmission pipelines;
  3. Mine projects: coal and mineral mines, sand and gravel pits, placer mineral mines, construction stone and industrial mineral quarries and off-shore mines;
  4. Water management projects: water diversions, dams, dykes, groundwater extraction;
  5. Waste management projects: special waste facilities, local government solid and liquid waste management facilities;
  6. Food processing projects: meat and meat products manufacturing and fish processing;
  7. Transportation projects: large public highway and railway, large ferry terminal and marine ports;
  8. Tourist destination resorts: large golf marine, and ski hill destination resorts.
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What Determines if a Project will be Reviewed?

Projects become .. in three ways:

  1. Reviewable Projects Regulation (RPR) provides for a broad range of major projects to be automatically reviewable if they equal or exceed relevant measurable thresholds, such as area, production volume, etc., which are set out in the regulation. Most major projects become reviewable based on this regulation. Projects triggering these thresholds are generally those with a higher potential for environmental impacts.
  2. Ministerial Designation by the Minister of Environment who has the authority to designate projects to be reviewed, which are not automatically reviewable under the RPR. The Minister will make such a designation if:
    • the Minister believes the project may have a significant adverse environmental, economic, social, heritage or health effect, and that the designation is in the public interest; and
    • if the project has not been substantially started at the time of designation.
  3. Proponent "Opt In" is available in cases where projects are not automatically reviewable, but a proponent sees advantages in a formal EA review, such as a "one window" contact point with government or the ability to demonstrate the sustainability of their project.
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Can a Member of the Public Request that a Project be Reviewed?

A member of the public may ask the Minister of Environment to designate a project as reviewable. The Minister will make such a designation if:

  • the Minister believes the project may have a significant adverse environmental, economic, social, heritage or health effect, and that the designation is in the public interest; and
  • if the project has not been substantially started at the time of designation.
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What is the Federal Government's Role in Environmental Assessment Reviews?

Over 70% of the major projects undergoing a provincial EA will also require a federal assessment under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA).

Federal environmental assessments must be conducted prior to a project proceeding if:

  • a federal authority is the proponent of the project;
  • federal money is involved;
  • the project involves land in which a federal authority has an interest; or
  • some aspect of the project requires federal approval or authorization.

The CEAA is administered by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.

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What Happens When Both Federal and Provincial Environmental Assessments are Required?

When a project falls under both provincial and federal environmental assessment responsibility, there is an agreement in place which ensures that the two governments will carry out a single, cooperative environmental assessment while retaining their respective decision-making powers. This harmonized approach creates greater efficiency and effectiveness for both the private and public sectors.

Examples of projects that would likely be subject to harmonized reviews include major mining projects and hydro-electric projects.

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How is an Environmental Assessment Conducted in B.C.?

An Environmental Assessment is conducted in two stages (pre-application and application review) by the Environmental Assessment Office (EAO):

  1. The Pre-Application Stage begins when a proponent submits a project description. EAO examines the document to determine whether the project is reviewable under the B.C. Environmental Assessment Act. If so, the proponent develops terms of reference that describe what must be contained in the environmental assessment application. Following that, there is a public comment period on the draft terms of reference, after which the EAO approves the revised terms of reference. The pre-application stage ends with the proponent completing baseline studies and impact assessments, and preparing an EA application.
  2. The Application Review Stage begins when the proponent submits an EA application. EAO compares the application with the terms of reference to determine whether the required information has been provided. If the application is accepted, a second public comment period is conducted on the application. EAO reviews the feedback and arranges follow-up discussions to resolve outstanding issues. EAO then prepares an assessment report and submits it to the relevant two Ministers (including the Minister of Environment), usually with recommendations. The application review stage concludes with a certification decision by the Ministers.
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Why is the Application Information Requirements Important?

The Application Information Requirements (AIR) is important as it identifies the issues to be addressed and the information to be provided by the proponent as part of their Environmental Assessment (EA) application. AIRs indicate the baseline studies needed to describe the project's environmental, economic, social, health and heritage setting, the predicted impacts on the setting, and the proposed measures to reduce, avoid or manage those impacts. The government decision on whether to issue an EA certificate focuses on how effectively the application has addressed the issues identified in the AIR.

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What Public Consultation Occurs in the Environmental Assessment Process?

The Public Consultation Policy Regulation sets out standards for public consultation. At a minimum there must be at least one formal public comment period during a review. Generally, there are two formal public comment periods, although some reviews have more than two. In all cases, public notice must be given at least seven days before the start of a formal public comment period. Public notice is generally given by newspaper advertisements.

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What Happens if Important New Information or Concerns Come to Light Late in the Environmental Assessment Process?

The EAO has the ability to change the scope of an EA and will do so - where warranted - to ensure the application is as complete as possible.

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What is the Purpose of Consultations?

The EA process is designed to be balanced, open and inclusive. Consultations are an essential component of the process by ensuring decisions on a specific project take into account, and are responsive to, the interests of all potentially affected parties. This includes First Nations, the public, local governments, provincial and federal agencies and, where warranted, B.C.'s neighbouring jurisdictions.

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What Opportunity Does the Public Have to Participate in the Environmental Assessment Process?

The B.C. environmental assessment process fosters public involvement through a number of channels:

  • There is public notification of key consultation events;
  • The public is able to access information through an electronic Project Information Centre (ePIC) on the EAO web site (EPIC);
  • There are formal public comment periods on the draft terms of reference and the application, and public meetings.
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What Issues are Considered Relevant to the Environmental Assessment Process?

Issues considered relevant to the Environmental Assessment (EA) process include those dealing with the technical feasibility of the overall project or individual project components. The EA process also looks at whether a project could potentially lead to unacceptable adverse impacts that cannot be prevented or sufficiently mitigated.

The review process addresses issues in a detailed manner in order to determine whether technical issues can be managed effectively by proven, affordable means. Where issues are deemed resolved for EA review purposes, additional more detailed technical information may still be required to complete permit applications, mitigation/compensation plans, and monitoring plans or data.

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Does the Environmental Assessment Look at Alternatives to Proposals?

The B.C. Environmental Assessment Act only requires the review of the project that is submitted. The environmental assessment process may examine alternative ways of implementing the proposed project during the application review stage. For example, the Environmental Assessment Office may assess alternative locations for facilities, for housing the workforce, alternative processing methods for producing the end product, or alternative approaches to constructing or operating the project.

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Does Environmental Assessment Office Consider Cumulative Impacts?

Yes, Environmental Assessment Office considers cumulative impacts as part of the provincial environmental assessment process.

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How Does the Environmental Assessment Office Assess Cumulative Impacts?

The EAO assesses whether a proposed project might have significant adverse environmental, social, economic, heritage or health effects. Within each of these categories EAO determines Valued Components (VC) that must be assessed. This may include, for example, potential impacts to water quality, wildlife, local service etc.

When assessing VCs, EAO considers the following:

  • approved land use plans that designate the most appropriate activities on the land base;
  • comprehensive baseline studies which set out the current conditions and thereby factor in effects of prior development;
  • consideration of potential overlapping impacts that may be occurring due to other developments, even if not directly related to the proposed projects; and,
  • consideration of future developments that are reasonably foreseeable and sufficiently certain to proceed.
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What are Some Examples of the Assessment of Cumulative Impacts by the Environmental Assessment Office?

  1. Hermann Mine Project

    The environmental assessment of the Hermann Mine Project, which was certified in 2008, considered previous, existing and reasonably foreseeable developments including nearby mines, logging and wind energy development. Cumulative impacts assessed on a number of Valued Components, such as air quality, sediment and wildlife (caribou, grizzly bear, fisher and moose).

    As a result of the cumulative impact assessment in wildlife, the Proponent committed to participating in an ongoing government-led caribou stewardship initiative and providing financial contributions to a caribou herd telemetry study.

    These mitigation measures exceeded what was required to address the potential adverse effects of the proposed projects alone by mitigating identified cumulative impacts from other developments as well.

  2. Port Mann/Highway 1 Project

    The environmental assessment of the Port Mann/Highway 1 project, which was certified in 2008, examined the impacts of the construction and operation of this project, as well as other proposed Gateway Program projects (i.e. South Fraser Perimeter Road and North Fraser Perimeter Road), on regional air emissions, regional air quality and potential social and economic impacts associated with predicted changes in air emissions.

    The assessment of cumulative impacts covered the geographic scope of the Lower Fraser Valley airshed and considered a number of potential cumulative impact scenarios combining existing conditions with projected 2021 conditions that assumed various combinations of the Gateway Program Projects either proceeding or not proceeding, in combination with other anticipated changes in traffic and emissions.

    The assessment of cumulative impacts also considered potential impacts from other projects including the Border Infrastructure Program; the Sea-to-Sky Highway Improvement Project; the Golden Ears Bridge, Canada Line, Deltaport Third Berth, and Terminal 2. The assessment of cumulative impacts predicted an increase of less than 1% in regional GHG emissions and 0.2% reduction in regional ambient air quality in 2021.

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How Does the Environmental Assessment Office Make a Determination That a Project Should be Recommended for Approval?

The review process addresses issues in a detailed manner to determine whether the issues can be managed effectively by proven, affordable means. If the answer is affirmative, the Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) will typically recommend approval.

In evaluating the issues, the EAO relies heavily on the advice of experts from government agencies with the expertise and/or mandate to consider the issues. EAO also consults with First Nations to ensure their interests are fully considered in any EAO determinations and recommendations to the Ministers.

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What Proportion of Projects do not Get Referred to Ministers for Decision?

Approximately 15 per cent of the projects that have entered the environmental assessment process have not been referred to Ministers for decision. These projects have either been officially terminated or have been inactive for more than five years.

A project may be officially terminated or become dormant when the proponent has not been able to resolve problems to the satisfaction of the Environmental Assessment Office and government agencies. In other cases, reviews stall or are terminated by proponents for internal corporate reasons, such as changing corporate priorities, or depressed market conditions or an inability to finance the project, or there may be a combination of economic and regulatory factors.

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What Information do Ministers Consider in Making Their Decision About Issuing an Environmental Assessment Certificate?

The Environmental Assessment Office provides Ministers with an assessment report that presents the findings of the project assessment, and usually accompanies the report with its recommendations.

In addition, Ministers may consider any other matters that, in their view, are relevant to the public interest in making their decision, such as broader government objectives for the environment or the economy or social and community well-being.

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What is the Overall Duration of a Project Review?

Pre-Application Stage: Usually it takes 12 months to gather the required environmental baseline information needed at the pre-application stage. The pre-application stage typically takes 12 to 18 months to complete depending on a variety of circumstances, including the technical complexity of the project and consultation requirements.

Application Review Stage: The application review stage, which is governed by legislated timelines, may take up to one month for screening the application to ensure it contains the required information and six months for reviewing the application once it has been accepted by the EAO.

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How Long Do Ministers Have to Review Applications?

The Prescribed Time Limits Regulations sets down a time limit of 45 days from the date of referral to Ministers for them to make a decision on whether or not to certify a project. If Ministers decide that more time is needed, an order may be issued to extend the time limit.

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Why Are Time Limits Set Under the B.C. Environmental Assessment Act?

Legislated time limits bring timing discipline to review activities which might otherwise take an excessive or indeterminate amount of time. Time limits provide a more predictable process and greater certainty to all interested parties. The Environmental Assessment Act provides for time limits to be imposed on key steps in the environmental assessment process in two ways:

  1. Legislated Timelines: Set in the regulations (the Prescribed Time Limits Regulation, the Concurrent Approval Regulation and the Public Consultation Policy Regulation); and
  2. Project-Specific Timelines: Set in Environmental Assessment Office procedural orders for steps not subject to legislated timelines.

Timelines may be applied to both government and proponents. The Minister of Environment or the EAO may extend any time limit set under BCEAA, even if that time limit has already expired. All timelines expressed in days refer to calendar days (not working days).

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Why Do Time Limits Sometimes Get Suspended?

Under the B.C. Environmental Assessment Act, the Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) may suspend a time limit during the application review if:

  • The EAO requires the proponent to provide additional information to fully address one or more issues;
  • The proponent requests a suspension, usually to complete necessary consultations; or
  • The proponent has not yet completed a required step or task.

The Minister of Environment may also suspend a time limit to await the outcome of any investigation, inquiry, hearing or other process that the Minister considers relevant to the project review.

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If an Environmental Assessment Certificate is Issued, Does it Mean that the Project Can Go Ahead?

When a project is issued an Environmental Assessment (EA) certificate, the proponent still needs to obtain a variety of other provincial, federal and local government statutory authorizations (e.g., permits, licenses, land use by-law approvals, etc.) to construct and operate the project. Applications for required approvals may be made by proponents while the EA review is still in progress, but such approvals cannot be granted until after an EA certificate has been issued.

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How Long Does an Environmental Assessment Certificate Last?

An EA certificate remains in effect for the life of the project, unless suspended or cancelled by the Minister of Environment for reasons of non-compliance with the Environmental Assessment Act. All certificates also contain a deadline of between three and five years from the date of issuance for the project to be "substantially started". If substantive project development has not begun by this deadline, the holder of the certificate can apply for one extension of the deadline for up to five more years. If the project has still not commenced by the new deadline, the certificate expires.

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How Can the Environmental Assessment Office be Sure Commitments in the Environmental Assessment Certificate will be Implemented?

Under the Environmental Assessment Act, a project must be developed in compliance with the Environmental Assessment (EA) certificate. Under the terms of their certificates, proponents are required to track compliance and report regularly on their progress in complying with EA certificate conditions. The EA certificate may contain requirements for:

  1. Monitoring the effects of the project;
  2. Comparing the anticipated effects of the project, as set out in the EA application, with the actual effects;
  3. Evaluating the adequacy of measures implemented to prevent or mitigate adverse effects; and
  4. Periodically reporting the results of the above activities to the Environmental Assessment Office or another agency.

Through this tracking procedure, the EAO is able to determine, at regular intervals, the progress being made in meeting the conditions of the certificate, including progress in complying with the list of proponent impact management commitments.

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Can a Member of the Public, Local Government or Interest Group Appeal a Decision Made Under the B.C. Environmental Assessment Act?

There are no formal provisions under the B.C. Environmental Assessment Act (the Act) to appeal a decision.

The option of judicial review through the courts is available to address perceived violations of the Act's legal requirements, including judicial review of the manner in which Ministers' certification decisions or the Environmental Assessment Office's administrative decisions have been made.