Regional Assessment under the Impact Assessment Act
What are Regional Assessments?
Regional assessments are studies conducted in areas of existing projects or anticipated development to inform planning and management of cumulative effects and inform project impact assessments.
Regional assessments allow the Government of Canada to go beyond project-focused impact assessments to understand the regional context and provide more comprehensive analyses to help inform future impact assessment decisions.
A regional assessment can be used to inform and identify:
- A baseline against which to assess the incremental impact of a discrete project
- Thresholds to support future project decisions
- Standard mitigation measures for future projects
- Potential impacts on rights and interests of Indigenous peoples
- Guidance for land- or marine-use planning and other initiatives for managing cumulative effects that may be undertaken by various jurisdictions
Regional assessments are one component of a broader Government of Canada effort to address the issue of cumulative effects nationally. In addition to regional assessments under the Impact Assessment Act (IAA), a number of regional initiatives are being carried out by Government of Canada departments and agencies outside of this legislation. For example, Fisheries and Oceans Canada is initiating Marine Spatial Planning and Transport Canada is leading an initiative to understand the cumulative effects of marine shipping. These efforts can also inform project-level impact assessments.
Regional Assessment under the Impact Assessment Act
The IAA includes the following provisions for regional assessment:
- The Minister of Environment and Climate Change (the Minister) is able to appoint a Committee or ask the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada (the Agency) to conduct a regional assessment.
- If a regional assessment is not entirely on federal lands, the Minister may enter into agreements with other jurisdictions respecting the conduct of the regional assessment (Committee-led assessment) or the Agency must offer to consult other jurisdictions (Agency-led assessment).
- The Minister must establish the terms of reference for regional assessments and appoint Committee members for assessment led by a committee.
- The Committee or the Agency must take into account any scientific information and Indigenous knowledge — including the knowledge of Indigenous women — provided with respect to the assessment.
- Federal authorities, such as Environment and Climate Change Canada or Transport Canada, must provide specialist or expert information or knowledge to the Committee or the Agency if that information or knowledge is relevant to the conduct of the regional assessment.
- The Committee or the Agency must ensure information used in the assessment is made available to the public.
- The Committee or the Agency must ensure that the public is provided with a meaningful opportunity to participate in the regional assessment.
- The Committee or the Agency must provide the Minister with a report that meets the established terms of reference and describes how Indigenous knowledge provided was taken into account, including the knowledge of Indigenous women.
The IAA also requires that the results of regional assessments be considered at the following points in future project impact assessments:
- If the Minister is considering designating a physical activity under s.9(1) of the IAA
- When the Agency decides if an impact assessment is required for a designated project
- As a factor to be considered in impact assessments
The Agency must also consider any relevant regional study or plan that is provided by a jurisdiction.
Regional Assessment Approach
The Agency is developing a policy to clarify the conduct of regional assessments under the IAA. A key driver for regional assessments under the IAA is to inform future project impact assessments. Using regional assessment to address issues that are best considered at a regional level will improve both the effectiveness and efficiency of the impact assessment process.
Regional assessments would be undertaken cooperatively with provincial, territorial and Indigenous jurisdictions that have responsibilities within the region. The Government of Canada would work with jurisdictions to identify opportunities to partner on regional assessments that would be mutually beneficial.
Indigenous peoples and the public would be engaged throughout the regional assessment process to ensure meaningful participation and the integration of scientific information and Indigenous knowledge during the conduct of regional assessments. This would include engagement in the planning, undertaking and final reporting for the regional assessment.
Types of Regional Assessment
Regional assessments should be flexible. They can be designed to allow a better understanding of and response to regional issues. As a result, the goals and activities of regional assessments may be different. A range of approaches could be used in regional assessments, including filling data gaps and analyzing trends, establishing thresholds and standard mitigation, or supporting the identification of regional development objectives and scenarios.
This diagram describes a continuum of activities that could be undertaken in a regional assessment, showing that cost and complexity increases as you move from: data gathering/trend analysis to settings thresholds and standard mitigation to regional development planning.
Data Gathering / Trend Analysis
- Better understanding of environmental, social and cultural context
- Early identification of region-specific issues
Setting Thresholds and Standard Mitigation
- Establish standard mitigation and/or effects thresholds to guide future planning and project development
Regional Development Planning
- Assessment of future (alternative) development scenarios
- Support identifying regional development objectives
A regional assessment could include multiple activities and/or project-types within a region, or it could focus on a specific sector or activity within a region. For example, the ongoing regional assessment in the offshore of Newfoundland and Labrador is focused on the existing and anticipated effects of offshore oil and gas exploratory drilling.
All types of regional assessment can improve impact assessment processes and decisions and support a better understanding of effects and how best to manage them.
A Regional Assessment in Practice: Offshore Oil and Gas Exploratory Drilling East of Newfoundland and Labrador
The Governments of Canada and Newfoundland and Labrador are conducting a regional assessment in the eastern portion of the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Area focused on the effects of existing and anticipated offshore oil and gas exploratory drilling in this region. The regional assessment aims to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the impact assessment process as it applies to oil and gas exploration drilling in this region, while at the same time ensuring that the highest standards of environmental protection are applied and maintained. The assessment is building upon the experience and knowledge gained in assessing previous projects and will reduce duplication in processes and information.
Under the IAA, the Minister can set conditions through regulations based on the results of a regional assessment to exempt certain designated projects from the application of the IAA. The types of projects eligible for this exemption are identified in the Physical Activities Regulations (i.e., offshore exploratory wells and offshore wind power projects). It is intended that the regional assessment in the Newfoundland and Labrador offshore would allow offshore exploration projects to be exempt from the IAA provided they are in conformity with the conditions set out in a Ministerial regulation after the regional assessment is completed. The IAA requires project proponents to notify the Agency and the Minister may prescribe information that is required from proponents when they intend to undertake a project that would be exempt from impact assessment.
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