Project compliance with environmental laws: why the initial approach is important
23 August, 2021 | Blog
Project managers want to ensure their work complies with Québec’s Environment Quality Act (EQA), but recent changes are making them face major challenges.
In fact, the EQA update and the enactment, in December 2020, of the Regulation respecting the regulatory scheme applying to activities on the basis of their environmental impact (REAFIE) have radically changed how activities are supervised subject to ministerial authorization under section 22 of the Act.
Remember that the REAFIE classifies proposed activities according to their level of environmental risk. So, under certain conditions, activities may be entitled to a statement of compliance or exempt from an authorization. So, how do you figure it out?
When starting a mandate, project managers must consider these new requirements, so they can define the project scope and quickly identify legal issues that will guide the design, work methods and project execution.
However, as it turns out, there are many subtle application or exemption criteria that can vary depending on the circumstances. Whether or not a project is subject to the law depends on how intense the environmental impacts are. But sometimes, regional branches of the Environnement et de la Lutte contre les changements climatiques (MELCC) could have concerns about the sensitivity of a site component, like a wetland, which may require ministerial authorization, making the interpretation appear more subjective.
So, it’s important to become familiar with the characteristics of the project’s receiving environment very early on in the planning process, so any concerns about potential contamination can be addressed. Meanwhile, for industrial projects, a good knowledge of the process’s inputs and products is an essential starting point for interpreting REAFIE requirements. As such, multidisciplinary collaboration has never been more important in this new regulatory environment.
Leveraging a collaborative approach
In the same vein, the MELCC also relies on a collaborative approach to quickly identify, at the outset of a project, any environmental concerns that may require ministerial authorization. More than ever, MELCC representatives are willing to meet with project developers and their consultants to provide guidance.
Moreover, these meetings are now made much easier to hold using communication tools (Teams, Zoom, etc.). So, you can request a meeting with MELCC regional analysts from the regional branch of the Ministry. To do so, consult the key stakeholder organization chart on the MELCC website and find the contact person for the region and the type of activity involved.
Having a plan of the proposed facilities superimposed on an aerial photograph of the area is an indispensable tool you can use for this preparatory meeting. Although preliminary, this plan must briefly show the sensitive elements in the surrounding environment (waterways, wetlands, residential and wooded areas, roads, etc.), as well as the technical elements of the works (drainage, discharge or emission points, infrastructure rights-of-way, storage areas, etc.). You can send this plan to the analysts a few days before the meeting, so they have time to read it. During the meeting, expect many technical questions that will enable the MELCC to raise any concerns that may lead to contamination. As such, we strongly recommend designing the plan to avoid, as much as possible, any liability triggers.
Making the necessary adjustments
Finally, the project can be refined once the developer addresses the MELCC’s concerns. For example, the developer may consider moving equipment to modify the footprint and avoid encroaching into a sensitive environment. After performing this environmental optimization, a Notice of Compliance must be obtained from the MELCC to notify the developer of the need to obtain ministerial authorization to proceed. This is important because of the time required to obtain approvals, as well as the cost and seasonality of conducting the prerequisite studies that will accompany the approval application.
Clearly, EQA compliance in the early stages of project planning demands close attention. If not, it can lead to delays and costs that developers often underestimate. So, building a multidisciplinary team in-house and at the client’s site is necessary to identify environmental concerns and quickly meet the MELCC’s regulatory expectations. In fact, obtaining a Notice of Compliance helps clarify a project’s critical points and benefits the client.
If you have any questions about this, feel free to contact our environmental management experts.