The Office of Auditor General made some alarming findings about federal environmental assessment in its fall 2010 report to the House of Commons this week.

One of the issues the report covers is environmental assessment (EA), or lack thereof, of infrastructure projects under Canada’s Economic Action Plan. The key findings are below:

Infrastructure Canada reported that an astounding 93 per cent of project proposals it reviewed for the Infrastructure Stimulus Fund were excluded from EA. The wording here is important. It suggests that the projects posed enough environmental risk to trigger an EA, but that they were specifically excluded from having to do one.
“Decisions to exempt some projects from EA were based on insufficient information”. The Auditor reviewed a sample of 52 projects. All were exempt from EA. The report found that 35 of them lacked sufficient information to determine if they should be exempt.
When changing the law so that Action Plan projects would be exempt from EA, the report states that “in order to bring about the changes quickly, the regulations were not released in draft form for public comment before they took effect.”

“As stated in the regulations, the new exclusions were intended to be temporary and were slated to expire on 31 March 2011. Through legislation implementing Budget 2010, these exemptions from environmental assessment requirements became permanent for certain infrastructure programs.”

These findings reinforce fears that Ecojustice expressed earlier this year: that gutting federal EA law will allow projects to go forward with no consideration for environmental impacts. It has taken from Canadians the ability to participate in environmental assessments, and strip away the federal role in responsible environmental decision-making.