Designating a Project under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012

This document provides guidance on federal environmental assessments commenced under the former Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012. It is retained for the completion of transitional environmental assessments commenced prior to the Impact Assessment Act. For more information on transitional environmental assessments, please consult the Legislation and Regulations page.

March 2015


This document describes the process for determining whether to require an environmental assessment of a project not identified in the Regulations Designating Physical Activities (Project List) under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA 2012) .

Authority under CEAA 2012

The Project List identifies types of major projects that may require an environmental assessment under CEAA 2012. These projects have the greatest potential for significant adverse environmental effects in areas of federal jurisdiction and are called “designated projects.”

There may be situations where a proposed project is not on the Project List or is below the prescribed threshold, but by virtue of its characteristics or location may have the potential to cause adverse environmental effects in areas of federal jurisdiction.

In such cases, the Minister of the Environment (the Minister) may designate a project for the purpose of requiring an environmental assessment (section 14 of CEAA 2012).

The adverse environmental effects considered are referred to in section 5 of CEAA 2012 and include effects that are within the legislative authority of Parliament or that could result from a federal decision about the designated project.

Subsection 14(5) specifies that the Minister does not have authority to designate a project and require an environmental assessment if:

  1. Construction has started and as a result the environment has been altered
  2. A federal authority has made a decision under another Act of Parliament that permits the project to be carried out

Scope of Application

The process described below applies to designation requests associated with projects that would be assessed by any of the responsible authorities under CEAA 2012 – the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (the Agency), the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and the National Energy Board.

Process for Designation Requests

The Agency advises and assists the Minister on the use of the authority to require an environmental assessment of a project not identified in the Project List.

A designation request to the Minister may originate from a variety of sources including the public, an Aboriginal group, a responsible authority or a federal authority, the Agency, another jurisdiction, a non-governmental organization or a project proponent.

The Agency takes a broad interpretation as to what constitutes a designation request in order to be as responsive as possible to external requests. The process described below would also be followed if the Minister requested advice from the Agency about whether to designate a project.

Following receipt of a request to designate a project, the Agency will:

  1. Determine if there is sufficient information to formulate a recommendation for the Minister
  2. Seek further information, if necessary – the Minister has authority to require such information under subsection 14(3)
  3. Solicit the advice of expert federal departments or the potential responsible authority (if it is not the Agency), as needed
  4. Consult with provinces, other jurisdictions and potentially impacted Aboriginal groups, as needed
  5. Seek input from the proponent if the available information suggests an environmental assessment might be warranted

In developing a recommendation for the Minister, the Agency will, as appropriate, take into account a number of matters including:

  • Whether there is potential for adverse environmental effects within federal jurisdiction, as set out in section 5 of CEAA 2012, and the anticipated nature and extent of those effects
  • Whether there are public concerns about the adverse environmental effects
  • Whether there are potential impacts to Aboriginal peoples and to potential or established Aboriginal and Treaty rights
  • Whether the project is near the threshold set in the Project List
  • Whether standard design features and mitigation would address the anticipated adverse effects
  • Whether the project involves new technology or is a new type of activity
  • Whether the potential adverse effects can be adequately managed through other existing legislative or regulatory mechanisms
  • Whether an assessment of environmental effects would be carried out by another jurisdiction
  • Whether the project may cause adverse environmental effects because of its location and environmental setting
  • Whether there are proposals for multiple activities within the same region that may be a source of cumulative effects

In developing its recommendation for the Minister, the Agency considers whether there is potential for adverse environmental effects. This is not the same as an environmental assessment that, once completed, indicates whether a designated project is likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects.

If the Minister decides to require an environmental assessment, the Agency will inform the proponent, the person or entity that initiated the request and the responsible authority that will conduct the environmental assessment (if it is not the Agency).

A notice of the commencement of the environmental assessment will be posted on the Canadian Environmental Assessment Registry Internet Site.

If it is decided that an environmental assessment is not required, the Agency will inform the proponent, the person or entity that initiated the request and, if applicable, the responsible authority.

Figure 1 below outlines the specific steps in this process.


This document is for information purposes only. It is not a substitute for the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 (CEAA 2012) or its regulations. In the event of an inconsistency between this document and CEAA 2012 or its regulations, CEAA 2012 or its regulations, as the case may be, would prevail.

Publication Information

Copyright: © Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, as represented by the Minister of the Environment, 2015

Catalogue number: En106-138/2015E-PDF
ISBN: 978-1-100-25901-7

This publication may be reproduced in whole or in part for non-commercial purposes, and in any format, without charge or further permission. Unless otherwise specified, you may not reproduce materials, in whole or in part, for the purpose of commercial redistribution without prior written permission from the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0H3 or

This document has been issued in French under the title: Désigner un projet en vertu de la Loi canadienne sur l’évaluation environnementale (2012).

Please contact to obtain this document in an alternative format.

Title: Figure 1 - How the Agency deals with requests to designate a project under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 - Description: The figure illustrates the process described in this document.

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