Frequently Asked Questions

About the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency

What does the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (the Agency) do?
The Agency provides leadership and serves as a centre of expertise for federal environmental assessment. It is responsible for the overall administration of the federal environmental assessment process. The Agency:
  • Administers the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 (CEAA 2012);
  • Conducts environmental assessments, except for projects regulated by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission or the National Energy Board;
  • Encourages public participation , because protecting the environment is everyone's business;
  • Promotes high-quality assessment through training and guidance;
  • Provides administrative and advisory support for review panels;
  • Advances the science and practice of environmental assessment through research and development;
  • Promotes the use of strategic environmental assessment as a key tool to support sustainable decision making;
What is the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act 2012?

CEAA 2012 and its regulations establish the legislative basis for the federal practice of environmental assessment in most regions of Canada.

The purpose of CEAA 2012 is to:

  • Protect components of the environment that are within federal legislative authority from significant adverse environmental effects caused by a designated project;
  • Ensure that designated projects  are considered and carried out in a careful and precautionary manner when the exercise of a power or performance of a duty or function by a federal authority is required for the project to proceed;
  • Promote cooperation and coordination between federal and provincial governments;
  • Promote communication and cooperation with Aboriginal peoples;
  • Ensure that opportunities are provided for meaningful public participation;
  • Ensure that environmental assessments are completed in a timely manner;
  • Ensure that projects proposed to be carried out on federal lands and projects that are outside of Canada that the federal government intends to carry out or fund, are considered in a careful and precautionary manner in order to avoid significant adverse environmental effects;
  • Encourage federal authorities to take action in a manner that promotes sustainable development; and
  • Encourage further studies of the cumulative effects of physical activities in a region and the consideration of the study results in environmental assessments.
When does the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act 2012 apply?

Under the CEAA 2012, an environmental assessment of a designated project may be required when there is the potential for adverse environmental effects that are within federal jurisdiction including:

  • fish and fish habitat;
  • other aquatic species;
  • migratory birds;
  • federal lands;
  • effects that cross provincial or international boundaries;
  • effects that impact on Aboriginal peoples, such as their use of lands and resources for traditional purposes; and,
  • changes to the environment that are directly linked to or necessarily incidental to any federal decisions about a project.

CEAA 2012 does not generally apply north of 60˚ where there are environmental assessment regimes in federal legislation, such as the Yukon Environmental and Socio-Economic Assessment Act, that have resulted from land claim agreements.

Where can I find guidance on the application of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act 2012?

Documents that can provide guidance on legislated obligations for federal environmental assessments under CEAA 2012 are available in the Policy and Guidance section.

The Policy and Guidance section includes archived material on the application of the former Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, as well as details for training opportunities and targeted information for industry representatives.

Environmental Assessment Types and Process

What types of environmental assessment are there?

Environmental Assessment by a Responsible Authority

The responsibility for conducting an environmental assessment rests with:

  • the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (for projects it regulates, such as nuclear projects);
  • the National Energy Board (for projects it regulates, such as international and interprovincial pipelines and transmission lines); or
  • the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (for all other designated projects).

An environmental assessment considers a set of factors that include the:

  • environmental effects, including cumulative effects, that could be caused by the project
  • significance of those effects;
  • mitigation measures to address significant adverse environmental effects; and
  • comments received from the public.

There are several opportunities for public participation during the environmental assessment of a designated project, including a comment period on the draft environmental assessment report. 

Environmental Assessment by Review Panel

When the Agency is the responsible authority, the Minister of the Environment may refer the environmental assessment of a designated project to a review panel. The Minister’s decision to refer must occur within 60 days of the start of an environmental assessment.

The Minister may refer the environmental assessment of a designated project to a review panel if he or she is of the opinion that it is in the public interest to do so. When exercising this authority, the Minister must consider the following factors:

  • the potential for the project to cause significant adverse environmental effects;
  • public concerns about those effects; and
  • opportunities for cooperation with another jurisdiction.

A review panel is composed of an expert, or a group of experts appointed by the Minister of the Environment, and selected on the basis of their knowledge, experience and expertise relevant to anticipated environmental effects. The review panel’s job is to carry out the environmental assessment of a proposed designated project. The environmental assessment considers a set of factors that includes the:

  • environmental effects, including cumulative effects, that could be caused by the project;
  • significance of these effects;
  • mitigation measures to address significant adverse environmental effects; and
  • comments from the public.
What is examined during a federal environmental assessment?

In the conduct of all federal environmental assessments, the following factors must be considered:

  • environmental effects, including environmental effects caused by accidents and malfunctions, and cumulative environmental effects;
  • significance of those environmental effects;
  • public comments;
  • mitigation measures and follow-up program requirements;
  • purpose of the designated project;
  • alternative means of carrying out the designated project;
  • changes to the project caused by the environment;
  • results of any relevant regional study; and
  • any other relevant matter.
Who is responsible for environmental assessment?

Responsibility for the environment and environmental assessment is shared between the federal and provincial governments. Aboriginal groups are also taking greater control and management of their environment and resources through constitutionally protected modern treaties (comprehensive claims, self-government agreements), many of which include environmental assessment provisions.

Under Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 (CEAA 2012), the responsibility for conducting a federal environmental assessment rests with:

  • the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (for projects it regulates, such as nuclear projects);
  • the National Energy Board (for projects it regulates, such as international and interprovincial pipelines and transmission lines); or,
  • the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (the Agency) (for all other designated projects).
In what cases would the federal government work with provincial/territorial governments to conduct environment assessments?

Fostering cooperation and coordinated action between federal and provincial governments is one of the principles of CEAA 2012. The goal is to prevent costly duplication while ensuring high-quality environmental assessments and protection of the environment. To this end, the Agency may delegate any part of an environmental assessment to a province.

CEAA 2012 has new provisions for substitution and equivalency. When approving a substitution, the Minister must be satisfied that the other process is an appropriate substitute for the CEAA 2012 process and  that the substantive requirements of the CEAA 2012 process will be satisfied by the other process. These requirements consist of:

  • consideration of the same factors as would occur during a federal environmental assessment;
  • an opportunity for the public to participate and have access to documents and the final environmental assessment report;
  • submission of the report to the Agency; and
  • any other conditions set by the Minister.

Assuming these conditions are met and there is a request from a province or an Aboriginal government  to substitute its process for a federal environmental assessment, then the Minister of the Environment must allow the other process to substitute for a federal environmental assessment, but not federal decision-making.

Finally, the Governor in Council, on the Minister of the Environment’s recommendation, may exclude a designated project from application of CEAA 2012 if it determines that the province will undertake an equivalent assessment. An equivalent assessment must meet the conditions for substitution, make a determination as to whether the project is likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects, ensure the implementation of all mitigation measures and a follow –up program, and satisfy any other conditions established by the Minister of the Environment.

The provisions for substitution and equivalency do not apply if a designated project is being assessed by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission or the National Energy Board or if the project has been referred to a review panel.

For more information on cooperative/coordinated environmental assessments and joint review panels, please see the Basics of Environmental Assessment.

How do environmental assessment and environmental assessment by review panel compare?

Under CEAA 2012, there are provisions for environmental assessment by responsible authorityand environmental assessment by review panel.

Both types of environmental assessment consider the same factors, require public participation, and result in decision statements with enforceable conditions.

What if a project does not appear on the Regulations Designating Physical Activities?

The regulations identify projects that are likely to require an environmental assessment because of their potential to cause significant adverse environmental effects.

The Minister of the Environment may also designate a project not identified in the Regulations Designating Physical Activities if the project may cause adverse environmental effects or there are public concerns about such effects.

What are the timelines for conducting an environmental assessment?

The following timelines are set by legislation:

  • The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency has 45 days to determine if an environmental assessment of a designated project described in the Regulations Designating Physical Activities is required.
  • The Minister of the Environment has 60 days after the start of an environmental assessment to refer a project to a review panel.
  • An environmental assessment by the Agency must be completed and a decision made by the Minister of the Environment within 365 days.
  • An environmental assessment by review panel must be completed within 24 months.
  • The Minister of the Environment will set project-specific timelines for each phase of the review panel process.
  • The Minister may extend the timeline of an environmental assessment by the Agency or an assessment by a review panel by three months to enable cooperation with another jurisdiction or because of circumstances that are specific to the project. The Governor in Council may grant further extensions. 
  • The Minister must terminate a review panel that fails to meet its deadline. The Minister may also terminate a review panel when he or she is of the view that the panel will not meet its deadline. In both cases, the Agency will be required to complete the environmental assessment.

All of the above timelines apply to government activities and do not apply to the period of time required by the proponent to gather the information needed to complete the environmental assessment. The Agency will report on its record in meeting these timelines.

Timelines for the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and the National Energy Board are covered under their respective statutes.

How are environmental assessment decisions under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act 2012 enforced?

The Minister of the Environment designates officers to verify compliance with CEAA 2012. The Minister may also seek an injunction to stop activities that violate CEAA 2012 or to prevent such violations.

When the Agency is the responsible authority, proponents are prohibited from proceeding with a designated project that causes adverse environmental effects on areas of federal jurisdiction until the Agency determines that an environmental assessment is not required or the Minister of the Environment issues a decision statement indicating the project is unlikely to cause any significant adverse environmental effects or that the Governor in Council has determined that such effects are justified in the circumstances.

Failure to fulfil the conditions in a decision statement related to environmental effects on areas of federal jurisdiction is an offence under CEAA 2012. Other offences set out in CEAA 2012 are: obstruction of designated officers; making false statements; and the failure to comply with an order issued by a designated officer.

Contraventions of CEAA 2012 can result in fines ranging from $100,000 to $400,000.

Follow-up programs

Environmental assessment is a predictive science with an element of uncertainty about potential effects and the ability of mitigation measures to address these effects. Follow-up programs are mandatory after all environmental assessments of designated projects. These programs are intended to verify the accuracy of the predictions regarding potential environmental effects and to determine if mitigation measures are working as intended. In doing so, these programs may identify areas where mitigation measures need to be adapted to address unforeseen circumstances while building a knowledge base to improve future predictions.

How can I get involved in the environmental assessment of a project?

Members of the public can participate at various stages of the environmental assessment process.

Once the Agency receives a complete project description, it must consider whether or not an environmental assessment is required. During this determination, the public is provided with an opportunity to comment on the proposed project and its potential for causing adverse environmental effects.

When it has been decided that an environmental assessment is required, the public is given an opportunity to comment on which aspects of the environment may be affected by the project and what should be examined during the environmental assessment.

Once the proponent submits its environmental impact statement, the public is invited to comment on the identified potential environmental effects of the project and the measures to prevent or mitigate those effects as proposed by the proponent. At this stage, avenues for comment and additional opportunities to participate may include open houses or public meetings.

Finally, the public is provided an opportunity to comment on the draft environmental assessment report. This document includes the Agency's conclusions regarding the potential environmental effects of the project, the mitigation measures that were considered and the significance of the remaining adverse environmental effects.

Check the Canadian Environmental Assessment Registry website for current opportunities for public participation. You may also wish to subscribe to the Agency News Bulletin.

Environmental Assessment by a Review Panel

The Minister of the Environment may refer an environmental assessment to a review panel if the Minister is of the opinion that it is in the public interest to do so. To make his or her decision, the Minister must consider whether the designated project may cause significant adverse environmental effects, whether there are public concerns related to the significant adverse environmental effects, and whether there are opportunities for cooperation with another jurisdiction that may be assessing the project, or any part of it.

A review panel is a group of independent experts appointed by the Minister of the Environment, in cooperation with another jurisdiction in the case of joint review panels, to conduct an environmental assessment. The members are selected on the basis of their knowledge, experience and expertise, and must be free from bias or conflict of interest relative to the designated project.

A review panel assesses whether the environmental impact statement prepared by the proponent is sufficient to proceed to public hearings. The hearings allow interested parties, including Aboriginal groups, to present evidence, concerns and comments regarding the potential environmental impacts of the designated project.

Review panels have the capacity to summon witnesses, and order witnesses to present evidence and produce records related to the environmental assessment.

The review panel prepares a report that includes its rationale, conclusions and recommendations, and submits its report to the Minister of the Environment. The report will also contain any proposed mitigation measures and suggestions for the follow-up program.

How can I stay informed about ongoing environmental assessments?

You may wish to subscribe to the Agency News Bulletin. This weekly email provides the most up-to-date information and announcements on projects currently undergoing an environmental assessment. You can search by province or by assessment type, and can easily link to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Registry or share information using Twitter and Facebook.

What is environmental assessment?

Environmental assessment is a process to predict environmental effects of proposed initiatives before they are carried out.

An environmental assessment:

  • identifies potential adverse environmental effects
  • proposes measures to mitigate adverse environmental effects
  • predicts whether there will be significant adverse environmental effects, after mitigation measures are implemented
  • includes a follow-up program to verify the accuracy of the environmental assessment and the effectiveness of the mitigation measures.

Participant Funding Program

What is the Participant Funding Program?

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency administers a Participant Funding Program to provide limited financial assistance to individuals, incorporated not-for-profit organizations and Aboriginal groups to help prepare for and participate in key stages of environmental assessments undertaken by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency or by review panels.

Why is there a funding program?

The Participant Funding Program supports public participation that contributes to an open, balanced process and strengthens the quality and credibility of federal environmental assessments. Sections 57 and 58 of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 require the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency to establish a Participant Funding Program to facilitate the participation of individuals, incorporated not-for-profit organizations and Aboriginal groups in environmental assessments undertaken by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency or by review panels.

Who is eligible to participate?

Individuals, incorporated not-for-profit organizations and Aboriginal groups may apply for participant funding and must be able to demonstrate the value they will add by their participation in the environmental assessment and that they meet at least one of the following criteria:

  • have a direct, local interest in the project, such as living or owning property in the project area;
  • have community knowledge or Aboriginal traditional knowledge relevant to the environmental assessment;
  • have expert information relevant to the anticipated environmental effects of the project; or
  • have an interest in the potential impacts of the project on treaty lands, settlement lands or traditional territories and/or related claims and rights.
Are local governments eligible for funds?

Local governments, other than Aboriginal governments, are not eligible for participant funding under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency's Participant Funding Program.

How can I become aware of the availability of participant funding?

The public is notified about the availability of funding through public notices posted on the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency's web site and placed in media in the region where the project is being proposed. News releases may also be issued.

Aboriginal groups eligible to apply to the Participant Funding Program, and potentially affected by the project, are contacted directly by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency and notified of the opportunity to apply for participant funding.

You may wish to subscribe to the Agency News Bulletin and/or RSS feed. These weekly emails provide the most up-to-date information and announcements on projects currently undergoing an environmental assessment. You can access information in the Agency News Bulletin by province or by assessment type, and can easily link to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Registry's Internet site or share information using Twitter and Facebook.

What are the deadlines for an application?

The application submission deadline is found in the public notice inviting applicants to submit an application form. The public notices are posted on the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency's web site. Incomplete applications or applications received after the application submission deadline will not be accepted.

What can the funding be used for?

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency's Participant Funding Program covers costs related to participating in federal environmental assessments. Examples of costs that could be covered include fees for expert advice, travel expenses, reporting costs, among others.

Certain activities that the Participant Funding Program does not cover include duplicate services, studies or written materials funded by other public or private sources, including information provided for or by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, the review panel or the proponent. General operations and maintenance costs are also not covered.

The Participant Funding Program is a limited financial contribution for individuals, incorporated not-for-profit organizations and Aboriginal groups to participate in federal environmental assessments and is not meant to cover all costs.

How is the amount of funding determined for each assessment?

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency has pre-established maximum funding levels for each recipient so that the same amount is available to all applicants for all projects and in any region. The maximum funding available for public participation in environmental assessments undertaken by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency is $12,300. And the maximum funding available for public participation in environmental assessments undertaken by a review panel is $21,800.

What information do I need to provide?

You must:

  1. meet at least one of the following eligibility criteria:
    • have a direct, local interest in the project, such as living or owning property in the project area;
    • have community knowledge or Aboriginal traditional knowledge relevant to the environmental assessment;
    • have expert information relevant to the anticipated environmental effects of the project; and/or
    • have an interest in the potential impacts of the project on treaty lands, settlement lands or traditional territories and/or related claims and rights.
  2. submit a complete application form for the correct environmental assessment type (environmental assessment undertaken by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency or environmental assessment undertaken by a review panel); and
  3. include the following information in the application form:
    • information on your organization or your Aboriginal group;
    • a detailed work plan and budget;
    • an explanation for the need for the funding assistance and the value that your organization's or your Aboriginal group's participation will bring to the environmental assessment;
    • identifying other sources of funding your organization or your Aboriginal group may receive; and
    • a signed valid resolution within two weeks of submitting your completed application.
Where do I send my completed application?

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency only considers applications received on or before the application submission deadline date, which is found in the public notice inviting the submission of applications and posted on the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency's website. Incomplete applications or applications received after the application submission deadline will not be accepted.

Completed applications and supporting documents are to be sent to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency's Participant Funding Program by one of the following ways:

  • Email to: PFP.PAFP@ceaa-acee.gc.ca
  • Facsimile: (613) 948-9172
  • Mail to:
    Participant Funding Program
    Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency
    160 Elgin Street, 22nd Floor
    Ottawa, ON K1A 0H3
How are the funds allocated?

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency reviews all applications received on or before the closing date of the application period to determine the eligibility of the applicant, and their activities and costs and that the applicant provided the required information.

A Funding Review Committee reviews all applications received to determine whether the costs are reasonable for the activities that the applicant plans on doing and whether the participation of the applicant in the environmental assessment will add value to the environmental assessment. Based on that analysis, the Funding Review Committee recommends whether funding should be approved, and if so, recommends an appropriate amount for each applicant to the President of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, who makes the final decision on each funding request.

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency then issues a news release announcing the allocation of funds.

How are the funds accessed?

After the President of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency has made the final decision on each funding request, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency signs a contribution agreement with the applicant. An expense claim with supporting documentation must be sent to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency for reimbursement of costs spent by participating in the environmental assessment.

Milestones in the History of Federal Environmental Assessment

Natural resources development
  • Large-scale development of natural resources began to open up Canada’s hinterlands after World War II.
  • At the time, little consideration was given to broad environmental consequences of mega-projects.
  • Environmental effects, including the destruction of wildlife habitat, air and water pollution, and the contamination of fish, were starting to be acknowledged.
  • Attention was focused on after-thought solutions rather than prevention.
Early origins of environmental assessment
  • Public interest in environmental issues grew during the late 1960s.
  • United States’ National Environmental Policy Act was introduced in 1969.
  • United Nations Stockholm Conference on Human Settlements took place in 1972.
    • Canada identified the study of environmental effects of projects as a high priority.
  • Justice Thomas Berger led the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry from 1974 to 1977.
Cabinet policy
  • Cabinet made a policy commitment to review the environmental effects of federal decisions in 1973.
  • Development projects were screened “to ensure […] they do the least possible damage to our natural environment.”
  • This process was then applied to federal lands and other areas of exclusive federal jurisdiction (e.g. nuclear power projects).
  • Environmental assessment became based on the principle of self-assessment:
    • Departments develop and apply their own screening procedures.
  • Where appropriate, arrangements were made for public meetings and opportunities to comment on issues.
  • Projects with significant effects were forwarded to Environment Canada for review by assessment panel. Members were drawn from officials in Environment Canada and the initiating department.
  • A 1977 Cabinet decision expanded panel membership to persons outside government. Crown corporations and regulatory agencies were “invited” to participate in the process.
Examples of early review panels
  • Point Lepreau Nuclear Power Station (1975)
  • Eastern Arctic Offshore Drilling (1978):
    • Demonstrated importance of Aboriginal traditional knowledge.
  • Arctic Pilot Project – Southern Terminals (1980):
    • First joint federal-provincial review.
Environmental Assessment and Review Process Guidelines Order (1984)
  • In 1984, the Government of Canada adopted the Environmental Assessment and Review Process Guidelines Order (EARPGO).
  • Put forth an Order in Council under the Government Organization Act.
  • Codified largely unwritten and vague process arising out of the 1974 Cabinet Policy.
  • Formally assigned Federal Environmental Assessment Review Office as responsible for administration of process.
  • Was initially interpreted as non-binding.
Toward a legislated process
  • Provinces began legislating their own processes during the 1970s and 1980s.
  • The Macdonald Commission recommended statutory basis for EARPGO in 1985.
  • The Brundtland Commission released its report “Our Common Future” in 1987, which defined the concept of sustainable development.
  • “Reforming Federal Environmental Assessment: A Discussion Paper” was released for public consultation in 1987.
  • Public concern about the environment reemerged during the late 1980s.
Environmental assessment harmonization
  • The Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment – with the exception of Quebec – signed an accord in 1998, designed to lead to improved cooperation and better environmental protection across Canada, and a sub-agreement on environmental assessment.
Canadian Environmental Assessment Act
  • Originally introduced as Bill C-78 in 1990.
  • Bill C-13 received Royal Assent in June 1992.
  • Amendments in Bill C-56 passed in December 1994.
  • Canadian Environmental Assessment Act brought into force in January 1995.
Renewing the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act
  • In 1999, the Minister of the Environment launched a review of the provisions and operations of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. The Minister published a discussion paper, as well as several background studies.
  • In 2001, Bill C-19 was introduced in Parliament to amend the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. At the same time, the Minister also submitted his report on the review of the Act.
  • Bill C-9 received Royal Assent in June 2003. Amendments to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act took effect on October 30, 2003. Former Minister of the Environment, the Honourable David Anderson, welcomed the announcement in a national news release.
  • On July 12, 2010, amendments to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act came into effect, which made the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency responsible for most comprehensive studies.
Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012
  • On April 26, 2012, the Government introduced Bill C-38, the Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity Act, a provision of which repealed the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, replacing it with a new Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012.
  • Bill C-38 received Royal Assent on June 29, 2012 and came into force on July 6, 2012.
Key court decisions
  • Rafferty-Alameda dam (1989):
    • Federal Court of Appeal ruled EARPGO to be a law of general application.
  • Oldman River dam (1992):
    • Supreme Court ruled that EARPGO applies where federal department has “affirmative regulatory duty.”
  • National Energy Board (1994):
    • Supreme Court takes broad view of federal capacity to assess full scope of project.
  • MiningWatch Canada v. Canada (2010):
    • Supreme Court ruled that the scope of the project, for the purpose of environmental assessment, must be the project as proposed.
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