On June 6, Ontario’s Minister of the Environment Laurel Broten announced that the province will make changes to the environmental assessment (EA) process to make it easier to navigate the system and to enable major infrastructure projects to proceed faster (as long as they’re well planned environmentally). The minister indicated that environmental planning in the areas of energy, transit and waste management will be changed to result in a “faster or yes or faster no” for applicants while protecting the environment.
An interesting aspect of the new plan is a new waste EA regulation that will standardize EA processes based on the type, size and impact of proposed projects. Another idea is to integrate EA with planning processes under other provincial legislation to reduce duplication in the three sectors, including waste management.
The announcements, although somewhat short on details, were welcome. The provincial environment ministry appeared to have stalled following the release about a year ago of a report that summarized a significant review of EA in the province. That review had generated a two-volume phone-book-size report drafted by a committee that included academics and lawyers, among others. The report, while comprehensive, was not received particularly well by all sectors of the “environmental” community.
Indeed, waste industry representatives sitting on a sub-panel provided their own advice in a “sub report” which was appended to the main document. The waste industry sub report was not supportive of all elements of the broader review and made specific suggestions which were in some cases contrary to the primary report. Rumour had it that the government was not entirely pleased with the larger report’s direction. In fact, some said the industry sub panels provided more practical help than the main report.
In any event, in her recent announcement the minister noted there was clearly a “deficit” in the waste sector regarding rules and structure for EA planning. In advance of the announcement, rumours circulated that a waste EA regulation would be released along with the minister’s comments. This did not occur, to the consternation of some, and the regulation is now apparently being prepared. Stay tuned.
EA’s poster child
As Ontario slowly progresses on EA reform, it’s worth remembering a project that demonstrates the need for it. I was reminded of the Adams’ Mine landfill proposal and all its history in May when I attended a gala party in North Bay thrown by Gordon McGuinty, an event he’d always promised when the project was complete to celebrate the many people who’d been a part of it. (Full disclosure: I’m going to make an exception here and write about a project I specifically worked on.)
The Adams’ Mine could have been a major infrastructure element to address Ontario’s disposal capacity deficit. While it was at one point Metro Toronto’s project, the principle proponent was Gordon McGuinty. First contemplated in about 1990, the Adams’ Mine near Kirkland Lake would have accepted approximately two million tonnes each year of municipal solid waste rail-hauled to an abandoned open-pit iron mine seven hours north of Toronto. The project was on again/off again through a panoply of provincial governments led by Premieres Peterson, Ray, Harris and McGuinty (a distant relative of Gordon). However, the project met its demise when the current McGuinty government passed the mischievously named Adams’ Mine Lake Act.
The Adams’ Mine is slowly filling with water — a fact that only confirms the existence of a hydraulic trap that would keep leachate in the landfill and not allow it to escape. Conveniently, the Act declared it a lake and stated that lakes shall not be used as landfills (or emptied in order to become landfills). This was the end of the road.
McGuinty and his partners obtained actual EA approval in 1998 and also negotiated a willing host agreement with the local communities — both rare and valuable things. Nevertheless, litigation extended past the approval well into 1999. Political brinksmanship at the City of Toronto in the fall of 2000 led to cancellation of its earlier commitment to contract with the Adams’ Mine, and this was followed later with de facto expropriation through provincial legislation when the site owners made rumblings they planned to build the landfill anyway.
In throwing the big party, McGuinty proved he’s not only the most persistent of businesspersons, but a man of his word. Guests included consultants, former employees, municipal and provincial politicians, business associates, investors and at least one lawyer. The only notes of bitterness or regret were those uttered by some from Kirkland Lake, the area which would have benefited most from the project.
If all projects, successful or not, could end this way business would be far more enjoyable. It’s a pity that the party wasn’t held in Kirkland Lake to celebrate the successful opening of new landfill.
Adam Chamberlain is a certified specialist in environmental law with Aird & Berlis in Toronto, Ontario. Contact Adam at email@example.com