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Ottawa contemplates changes to CEPA, 1999

by Mark Sabourin
EcoLog, 7/6/2018 12:51:00 PM

Changes are coming to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA, 1999), according to the federal government’s follow-up response to recommendations of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development.

The committee tabled its report in June 2017, making 87 recommendations to improve CEPA, 1999 and its implementation. The federal government responded to the report in October 2017 with a promise to follow up with a more detailed response by June 2018.

The federal government’s follow-up response — submitted to the committee on June 29, 2018 — rejects only a handful of the recommendations, such as broadening the individual right of action in section 22, seeking public comment on the compliance and enforcement policy under CEPA, 1999, and imposing mandatory national air quality standards.

But it is not shutting the door to amending CEPA, 1999 to include a statutory right to a healthy environment. That’s a contentious and long-sought addition, and the federal government says it will study it further and engage with stakeholders on its implications.

The federal government is also receptive to a suite of recommendations dealing with toxic substances. For instance, masked names may be used to conceal the identity of substances in certain circumstances. The federal government agrees with the committee’s recommendation that the mask be lifted after five years unless the proponent can show why it shouldn’t. In the meantime, the federal government is tightening criteria for withholding confidential business information.

The federal government is also receptive to considering aggregate exposure to and cumulative and synergistic effects when assessing whether a substance is toxic. It is also willing to consider adopting a life-cycle approach to assessing and managing substances under CEPA, 1999.

A number of other changes will follow the completion of the Chemicals Management Plan, an initiative to assess 4,300 substances. More than 3,000 have gone through the process, and the balance will be done by March 31, 2021. The federal government has set post-2020 for the next phase of chemicals management, and among the initiatives under consideration for that period are:

  • mandatory hazard labelling of all products containing toxic substances
  • an assessment of potential hot spots or areas of potential intensified or cumulative emissions of toxins
  • mandatory timelines for listing substances or developing risk management measures
  • mandatory assessment of alternatives during screening assessments of existing substances.

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