Guide to understanding the Canadian Environmental Protection Act: chapter 3

3. CEPA 1999 guiding principles

The Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA 1999) sets out several guiding principles in the preamble and embodies them in the administrative duties of the government. Key among them include:

Sustainable development: The Government of Canada's environmental protection strategies are driven by a vision of environmentally sustainable economic development. This vision depends on a clean, healthy environment and a strong, healthy economy that meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Pollution prevention: CEPA 1999 shifts the focus away from managing pollution after it has been created to preventing pollution. Pollution prevention is "the use of processes, practices, materials, products, substances or energy that avoid or minimize the creation of pollutants and waste and reduce the overall risk to the environment or human health."

Virtual elimination: CEPA 1999 requires the virtual elimination of releases of substances that are persistent (take a long time to break down), bioaccumulative (collect in living organisms and end up in the food chain), toxic (according to CEPA 1999 Section 64) and primarily the result of human activities. Virtual elimination is the reduction of releases to the environment of a substance to a level below which its release cannot be accurately measured.

Ecosystem approach: Based on natural geographic units rather than political boundaries, the ecosystem approach recognizes the interrelationships between land, air, water, wildlife, and human activities. It also considers environmental, social and economic elements that affect the environment as a whole.

Precautionary principle: The government's actions to protect the environment and health are guided by the precautionary principle, which states that "where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation."

Intergovernmental cooperation: CEPA 1999 reflects that all governments have the authority to protect the environment and directs the federal government to endeavour to act in cooperation with governments in Canada to ensure that federal actions are complementary to and avoid duplication with other governments.

National standards: CEPA 1999 reinforces the role of national leadership to achieve ecosystem health and sustainable development by providing for the creation of science-based, national environmental standards.

Polluter Pays Principle: CEPA 1999 embodies the principle that users and producers of pollutants and wastes should bear the responsibility for their actions. Companies or people that pollute should pay the costs they impose on society.

Science-based decision-making: CEPA 1999 emphasizes the integral role of science and traditional aboriginal knowledge (where available) in decision-making and that social, economic and technical issues are to be considered in the risk management process.

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