Interim government response to review of Canadian Environmental Protection Act: part 2

Part 2. Policy context

This chapter describes the Government's main environmental protection priorities -- the Chemicals Management Plan, and Turning the Corner: An Action Plan to Reduce Greenhouse Gases and Air Pollution -- and the role the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA) will play in supporting these initiatives.

At the same time as the Government uses CEPA to address toxic chemicals, air pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions, it will continue to implement and seek ways to improve its use of the numerous other provisions and requirements under the act.

2.1 The Chemicals Management Plan

2.1.1 Overview of the Chemicals Management Plan

A key aspect of CEPA is the prevention and management of risks posed by toxic and other harmful substances. Until recently, there was a major distinction between the way in which the government was able to address substances being proposed for use in Canada ("new substances") and the tens of thousands of substances that were already in commercial use in Canada prior to the introduction of the first CEPA in 1988 ("existing substances").

Since 1994, the federal government has used CEPA to ensure that no "new substances" are introduced into the Canadian marketplace before they have been assessed to determine whether or not they are toxic or capable of becoming toxic to the environment or human health.

By contrast, approaches to "existing substances" were not as comprehensive because regulators were faced with thousands of substances. Some substances were developed and introduced before detailed toxicological research was routine and some have been in widespread commercial use for decades. As a result, the approach in Canada, as in other jurisdictions, focussed on the risks from large-scale pollutants, such as combustion products like dioxins and furans, or releases to water like effluents from mills or other facilities. The government used panels of scientific experts to identify pollutants suspected to be harmful, and then assessed the ecological and health risks of those substances. In most cases, if the assessment process determined that the substance posed an unacceptable risk to the environment or human health, the government added the substance to the List of Toxic Substances under CEPA and implemented measures to prevent or manage the risks from the substance.

Despite these efforts, prior to the overhaul of CEPA in 1999, there were still thousands of chemicals and substances in commercial use that had not been assessed for the risks they may pose to the environment or human health. CEPA introduced a new regime for identifying priorities for assessment and management on a more systematic and comprehensive basis. New provisions in the act required the government to "categorize" the approximately 23,000 substances that were in commercial use in the mid 1980s. The categorization exercise identified substances of potential concern for further assessment, including substances with certain toxicological characteristics as well as those with the greatest potential for human exposure.

The result is that Canada is the only country in the world to have an information base on the thousands of "existing substances" that have been in commercial use since the 1980s but which have not been assessed for the risks they may pose to humans or the environment. Using this information base to set priorities for further analysis, the Chemicals Management Plan describes the Government's overall approach to dealing with these priorities by 2020.

At the core of the Chemicals Management Plan is the simple idea that chemicals to which Canadians or the environment may be exposed should not create unacceptable risks to their health or to the environment. While the plan still addresses large-scale industrial emissions and releases of toxic pollutants, it also reflects the increasing worldwide focus on the chemicals we use every day--substances that are intentionally manufactured, imported and used in products and treatments to improve the quality of life.

These commercial chemicals make a fundamental contribution to the economic and social well-being of Canadians. However, exposure to some of them can lead to unintended effects in humans and the environment: effects such as cancer, neurobehavioral disorders, birth defects and respiratory diseases as well as water contamination, air pollution, and reproductive effects in wildlife.

The Chemicals Management Plan protects Canadians and the environment from these sorts of effects while supporting and promoting a strong Canadian economy, by ensuring that the government:

  • gives Canadians the information they need to make decisions about what risks are acceptable to them;
  • moves quickly to reduce risks from chemicals when they are identified, using measures ranging from distributing information, to requiring labelling of products, and regulating or prohibiting the use of certain substances;
  • encourages industrial users and producers of chemicals to take pro-active measures ranging from sharing information to changing product formulations in order to protect Canadians and the environment; and
  • uses all of its legal powers to manage risks from chemicals in ways that are clear and predictable to producers, users and consumers of chemicals and products.

The plan's objective is to address all priority chemical substances in Canada by 2020. The government will accomplish this by accelerating existing activities, reinvesting in science, and developing new and innovative partnerships with industry and other countries to work collectively towards common goals. An online chemicals portal will keep Canadians and stakeholders informed of progress towards meeting this objective.

2.1.2 Actions under the Chemicals Management Plan

The following are some of the many actions that will be taken under CEPA:

  • Immediate regulation of five groups of chemicals -- In 2006, the government introduced regulations placing restrictions on five groups of chemicals because there is strong evidence that they pose a risk to the environment or human health. These include draft regulations on polybrominated diphenyl ethers (flame retardants) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (used in the manufacturing of some non-stick coatings and stain repellents). The pentachlorobenzene and tetrachlorobenzenes (impurities or resulting from waste incineration), and 2-methoxyethanol (anti-icing agent in jet fuels and chemical/industrial processes) amendment to the Prohibition of Certain Toxic Substances Regulations, 2005 is now in force.
  • Challenge to stakeholders on high priority chemical substances -- In early 2007, the government began a three-year process focused on the 200 substances identified as a result of categorization as being the highest priority for further action. Under this process, the government has challenged manufacturers and importers to provide information on the uses of these chemical substances and the best ways to control risks from these substances. Requests will be made every three months on groups of 15 to 30 substances. The government will use the responses to determine how to manage these substances.
  • Restrictions on new uses of various substances -- Based on the results of the categorization process, the Government identified a further 150 priority chemical substances which are not currently used in Canada. In late 2006, the government published a proposal to use CEPA to place significant new activity (SNAc) notices on these 150 substances. As a result of this action, these chemical substances will not be allowed for use in Canada unless proponents provide the data needed to support a risk assessment demonstrating that the substance would not pose an unacceptable health or environmental risk. Later in 2007, the government will also place similar requirements on some of the other priority substances which continue to be used in Canada.
  • Ongoing assessment and management of medium-priority substances -- By 2020, the government will identify the health and environmental effects of 2,600 medium-priority substances through successive rounds of assessment. As more information is obtained on these substances, the Government will make decisions on how best to manage them.
  • Rapid screening of low-concern substances -- Following the categorization process, approximately 4,300 substances were identified as meeting the categorization criteria. However, about 1,200 of these substances were believed to not pose a risk to the environment or to human health and were screened using a worst-case approach to decide if further assessment was necessary. The result, which was published in the Canada Gazette in June 2007, identified 754 substances as "not toxic" under CEPA; the government committed to validate the assumptions made under this rapid screening approach through the government's new inventory update program, under future research and monitoring programs, or as part of future assessments of groups of substances.

    The other 400 or so substances have been identified as requiring further assessment in order to evaluate their potential to cause harm. A priority-setting framework will be developed and used to establish the next round of priorities under the Chemicals Management Plan. Further information and details will follow in the coming months.
  • Research and health monitoring -- Working with other agencies and levels of government, the government will build a monitoring program to track Canadians' exposure to toxic substances. The program will allow the government and others to measure progress in managing risks from chemical substances.
  • Promoting good stewardship of chemical substances -- The government will work with industry to develop sound management practices that protect Canadians and the environment and strengthen industry's role in proactively identifying and safely managing risks associated with the chemicals they produce and use. These practices may include expanded product labelling and controls on imported products that contain substances restricted in Canada.
  • Regulations on pharmaceuticals and personal care products -- The government will work with stakeholders to review the potential health and environmental risks associated with substances used in products regulated under the Food and Drugs Act.

In addition to addressing the priorities identified during the categorization process, the Chemicals Management Plan establishes a comprehensive agenda to ensure that actions to manage chemical substances under all federal statutes are as integrated and current as possible. Chemicals Management Plan actions being taken under other statutes include:

  • Re-evaluation of older pesticides -- The government will re-evaluate 200 older pesticides and, by 2009, decide if they meet today's standards. The government will also review and register replacement pesticides more quickly.
  • Cosmetics labelling -- Thegovernment will implement compliance and enforcement measures for the amended Cosmetic Regulations that require ingredient labelling on all cosmetic products.
  • Enhanced management of environmental contaminants in food -- Actions will be taken to identify and reduce contaminants in food supplies and minimize potential health impacts on Canadians. The government will provide consumers with up-to-date food safety information to help them make healthy food choices for themselves and their families.

These actions do not preclude other legislation from being used, such as the Hazardous Products Act, depending on the appropriate tool for controlling and managing risk.

2.1.3 The role of CEPA in implementing the Chemicals Management Plan

CEPA will be the primary statute the Government will use to implement the Chemicals Management Plan. The information developed through CEPA's categorization process provided the basis for establishing the priorities for action under the plan. CEPA also provides the authorities needed to continue to assess and manage most of the priority chemical substances.

In addition to CEPA, because there are many different chemicals and numerous ways of using them, the federal government addresses potential threats to human health and the environment from chemicals through various laws. For instance, the Food and Drugs Act and the Pest Control Products Act establish approval requirements for specific uses of substances. The Hazardous Products Act prohibits or regulates consumer products that may pose an unacceptable risk to users.

Within this array of federal legislation, CEPA is the backstop law that ensures that all substances not assessed under another law are assessed for possible human health or environmental risks, and that action is taken to address any unacceptable risk.

2.2 Turning the corner: An action plan to reduce greenhouse gases and air pollution

2.2.1 Overview of the action plan to reduce greenhouse gases and air pollution

Climate change is a global issue of major concern for Canadians. While Canada accounts for just 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions, its per capita emissions are among the highest in the world and continue to increase. Air pollution is also a significant threat to human health and the Canadian environment. To address these issues, it is crucial that Canada do its part to address its own contribution to global climate change and reduce emissions of air pollutants.

The government announced it is taking immediate steps through Turning the Corner: An Action Plan to Reduce Greenhouse Gases and Air Pollution. A central element of the plan is the Regulatory Framework for Air Emissions, which includes reduction requirements for emissions of greenhouse gases and selected air pollutants from industrial and transportation sources, performance standards for consumer and commercial products, and action to improve indoor air quality. The regulatory framework will provide a nationally-consistent level of protection for the health of Canadians and their environment, while ensuring the continued competitiveness of the Canadian economy.

The regulations will set mandatory and enforceable reduction targets for emissions of greenhouse gases and air pollutants from the following major industrial sectors: electricity generation produced by combustion; oil and gas (including upstream oil and gas, downstream petroleum, oil sands, and natural gas pipelines); forest products; smelting and refining (including aluminum, alumina, and base metal smelting); iron and steel; iron ore pelletizing; potash, cement, lime, and chemicals production, including fertilizers. This regulatory regime will be among the most rigorous in the world.

Implementation of the regulatory framework will result in significant improvements in air quality, including decreases in smog levels and acid deposition. In turn, these air quality improvements will lead to substantial health benefits from the reduced risk of death and illness. This strong regulatory system will lead to technological investment and innovation in Canada, yielding long-term economic benefits.

2.2.2 Actions under the Regulatory Framework for Air Emissions

Greenhouse gases

For greenhouse gases, the government will introduce short-term reduction targets that will come into force in 2010. These targets will result in absolute reductions relative to 2006 levels in the total emissions of greenhouse gases from industry as early as 2010 and no later than 2012, even if the economy grows as expected. These actions will help the government achieve its commitment to reduce national greenhouse gas emissions by 20% from 2006 levels by 2020.

To provide flexibility and help minimize any negative economic impact of the regulations, the regulations will give industry several options to meet their legal obligations. Regulatees will be able to comply by reducing their own emissions through abatement actions such as energy efficiency measures, improved energy management systems, deployment of carbon capture and storage, and other emission-reducing technologies. In addition, regulated firms will have access to emissions trading and could qualify for a one-time recognition of early action. The government will also pursue linkages with North American greenhouse gas emissions trading systems.

Furthermore, new regulations will require fuel producers and importers to have an average annual renewable fuel content of at least 5% of the volume of gasoline that they produce or import, beginning in 2010. Upon successful demonstration of renewable diesel fuel use under the range of Canadian conditions, the government also intends to require an average 2% renewable fuel content in diesel fuel and heating oil by no later than 2012. These new regulations will require enough renewable fuel to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 4 megatonnes per year, the equivalent of taking almost one million vehicles off the road.

In conjunction with the planned regulations, the Government also announced funding of $365 million to encourage the development of biofuels and other bioproducts.

Air pollutants

The emission reduction targets for air pollutants will specify a maximum level of certain air contaminants (nitrogen oxides, sulphur oxides, volatile organic compounds, and particulate matter) that can be emitted from a given sector in a given year. The government is consulting with affected parties on the targets and other features of the regulatory regime. As more information becomes available and regulatory development is undertaken, the government will consider whether regulations for specific sectors should include targets for other air pollutants. The targets for air pollutants will come into force as early as possible, between 2012 and 2015.

To provide flexibility in meeting the emission limits, the regulations will give firms the options of reducing their own emissions or purchasing emissions credits through a national emissions trading system that will be established for sulphur oxides and nitrogen oxides. If a firm is in an area where air quality does not meet national objectives, the government will restrict the use of emissions credits from outside that area. The government will also continue discussions with the United States on a cross-border emissions trading system for these pollutants.

Air quality objectives

Some of the most significant health risks to Canadians from air pollution are associated with direct exposure to ambient levels of particulate matter and ozone, the main components of smog. The government will set air quality objectives under CEPA for particulate matter and ozone. These objectives will specify targets for the maximum concentrations of these substances in ambient air.

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