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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The environmental assessment and review process : an analysis of the screening phase Holisko, Gary John


This thesis examines the procedures for screening of environmentally significant projects under the federal Environmental Assessment and Review Process (EARP). The EARP screening process refers to the procedures employed by individual departments and agencies to examine proposed activities within their control to determine whether they are likely to have significant environmental effects. I define an "optimal" screening process based on several normative criteria, test the effectiveness of the existing procedures in four federal government departments against these criteria, and suggest means of improving the process. Because the government agencies and their Ministers are theoretically accountable to Canadians, criteria for assessment are derived from both common sense and democratic principles. Methods used in the thesis follow the traditional social science mould: 1) literature review and background research into impact assessment including a review of the U.S. process, EARP, and the screening mechanism in particular. 2) brief review of literature to provide a rationale and theoretical framework for the evaluation criteria. 3) interviews and correspondence with persons associated with the screening process in order to get first-hand documentation of departmental operations in screening. 4) content analysis of eight case studies from the files of the four selected agencies. The results of the analysis of the screening phase of EARP indicate a number of deficiencies. The following summarizes my findings: The Department of Energy, Mines and Resources (EMR) only instituted its screening process in mid-1979, six years after the implementation of EARP. I examined two projects selected for this purpose by EMR, and found them to be non-systematic, with no formal decision criteria or guarantee of public consultation. In the Department of Public Works (DPW) Marine Engineering Program (Pacific region) the so-called screening process was similarly judged inadequate in the case of two projects selected by DPW for review by this study. A third project was also examined because it had actually been referred to the formal assessment phase of EARP. However, there was no file documentation indicating any screening of projects other than routine referral to environmental protection agencies for their comments. This lack of a formally documented screening process was surprising given the detailed guidelines for screening specified by the Environmental Analysis Division at DPW headquarters in Ottawa. The screening process in the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs (DINA) (Northern Affairs Program) was particularly difficult to analyse. Only one example of screening was available with documentation and it was found to be deficient in almost every respect. Moreover, DINA allowed this project to proceed against the recommendations of the two committees used for screening and in the absence of any stated policy rationale. The screening process in the Ministry of Transport (MOT) Canadian Air Transportation Administration (Pacific Region) met more of the thesis assessment criteria than any of the other departments assessed. Five projects, of which two were examined in detail, were selected for study in consultation with MOT officials in Ottawa and Vancouver. There is a formal systematic screening process with criteria to identify potentially significant projects. The process suffers from several deficiencies, the principal one being the limited standards for screening decisions. The principal criterion for further environmental assessment is public controversy, yet there is no effective means of ensuring that the public has any involvement in the screening process. Documentation of environmental effects in the Initial Environmental Evaluation was judged inadequate. The role of the Department of the Environment (DOE) (other than FEARO) in the EARP screening process was briefly examined. At present, DOE participation is passive, depending on other government agencies to voluntarily refer projects for DOE's comments and advice. There also appears to be some confusion over the role of DOE as an initiator or proponent in referring projects to the formal assessment phase. This analysis indicates that major changes to departmental screening procedures are necessary. Recommendations for improving the screening process include: development and implementation of systematic screening procedures with rigorous standards for application; development of practical decision criteria to determine project significance; ensuring opportunity for public participation; and making the process "open" by ensuring adequate information for making screening decisions and by providing full access to all relevant documentation to concerned parties.

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