The BC Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) released an intentions paper for a Proposed Reviewable Projects Regulation (RPR) that will support the new Environmental Assessment (EA) Act. The Act was passed in November 2018 and is expected to come into force with the new RPR in late 2019.
The aim of the RPR is to set out the criteria for determining which projects have the potential for adverse effects and thus should undergo an EA, and where EA will add value beyond the rigorous regulatory processes required in the Mines Act and other provincial acts and regulations.
This is the first substantial revision to the RPR in fifteen years. The proposed RPR continues to focus on design or production thresholds as the primary means of determining whether a project is reviewable under EA. For mineral mines the proposal is 75,000 tonnes/year (or 200 tonnes/day) of ore production.
However, the proposed RPR introduces new effects thresholds (such as linear disturbance and greenhouse gas emissions) as well as notification thresholds (such as the size of the workforce) that will apply to all projects including mines. If a proposed mineral mine is below the production threshold, it will still be reviewable if it exceeds any of the effects thresholds. In addition, a project that is not reviewable but meets any of the notification thresholds, will have to notify the EAO about the project. After notification, the EAO may refer the project to the Minister for designation as reviewable.
What AME is doing
AME provided feedback on the proposed RPR in a submission to the EAO on October 7, 2019. AME focused on three areas of the proposed RPR in our submission: the design/production threshold for mineral and coal mines; the greenhouse gas emissions effects threshold; and the workforce notification threshold.
Project Design/Production Threshold for Mineral and Coal Mines
AME recommends that the EAO increase the project design/production threshold for metal and coal mines to bring it closer into alignment with the new federal threshold for metal and coal mines.
- Regulation related to the new federal Impact Assessment Act that was brought into force in August 2019 defines a reviewable metal, diamond or coal mine as one that has ore production of 5000 tonnes per day or more. This is almost 25 times higher than the current and proposed threshold for mineral mines in the RPR. In addition, the federal production threshold for metal and coal mines was increased from 3000 tonnes per day in the previous environmental assessment act to 5000 tonnes per day with the new Impact Assessment Act. Following the federal approach, we recommend that the EAO increase the design threshold for metal and coal mines in the RPR.
- The current and proposed production threshold for mineral mines essentially captures every new mine proposal in BC, whether small or large. It does not effectively distinguish between projects that have the potential for adverse effects nor the projects where EA will add additional value beyond mines permitting. Provincial mines permitting provides a rigorous, efficient and cost-effective process for the review and approval of small to mid-sized operations.
- In the new RPR there are several other ways in which a mine project could be designated as reviewable if there are concerns around adverse effects. This includes the new proposed effects thresholds as well as the provision in the act that an Indigenous nation or the public can make a request to the minister to designate a project as reviewable.
Effects Thresholds – Greenhouse Gases (GHG)
AME recommends that the calculation of GHG emissions for a project are based on direct emissions only and that other sources are not included.
- In order for the GHG threshold to be effective it must be measurable and knowable by the project proponent at the time of the EA. As such, only those parts of the project that can be directly measured and are in direct control by the proponent, as currently reported for major industrial sites through Environmental Reporting BC and as currently forecasted in environmental assessments, should be included.
Notification Threshold – Workforce
AME recommends that the workforce threshold include only the permanent ongoing workforce that would be housed on site during operation of the project.
- The workforce notification threshold should be based on the permanent workforce during operation of the project rather than the size of a temporary workforce that may be needed during construction or for other temporary activities.
- The location of the project relative to population centres and whether the workforce will be resident on site are important considerations in the potential impact of the workforce. A project located near to one or more populations centres in which the workforce will reside in those populations centres may well have limited impact whereas a workforce at a remote site in which people will reside on site has the potential for greater impact. This difference should be factored into the definition of the workforce threshold.
- The definition of the workforce also needs to be clarified and should be based on full-time equivalents on site at any given time.