Environmental Impact Assessment

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What is it?

(this page is derived from a more complete summary created by the Environmental Law Centre in Edmonton)


Environmental Impact Assessments (or Environmental Assessments) are intended to ensure early identification and evaluation of all potential environmental consequences of a proposed undertaking and to reconcile development with environmental protection and preservation. Environmental Impact Assessments are already clearly legislated at both the federal and provincial levels, however a municipality may institute their own impact assessment process in conjunction with these assessment protocols and enact a bylaw so long as it does not conflict or undermine the provincial or federal legislation.

How can municipalities use it?

Municipalities can choose to perform their own impact assessments for projects under their jurisdiction and control. This can be done through bylaws or other planning policy and would allow municipalities to set their own standards and enforcement measures. For example, a municipality could, through bylaw, designate that all, or some, of their planning tools (i.e., land use bylaws, municipal development plans, area structure plans, area redevelopment plans, intermunicipal development plans, etc.) include an impact assessment process. Municipalities could also create a dedicated municipal environmental assessment bylaw. Under such a bylaw a municipal impact assessment could be triggered at the strategic level (such as in municipal and statutory plans) or at the projects level (such as during development permit applications).

What are the advantages?

There are several advantages to a municipal Environmental Impact Assessment, including:

  • Ensures that projects within their boundaries are assessed for environmental impacts

  • Allows municipalities to set their own standards for projects, including those that may differ from provincial or federal guidelines

  • Can be used to improve statutory planning activities

  • Allows for the identification of environmentally significant areas

  • Informs appropriate land use planning

  • Can help guide future land development proposals

  • Can help with site-specific development planning and decision making

What should you watch out for?

When creating a municipal Environmental Impact Assessment process, there are several factors to consider, including:

  • Can be an intensive process

  • Municipalities must balance the costs of performing their own impact assessments with the benefits

  • Municipal-level assessments do not necessarily mean a project will not have to undergo a provincial/federal assessment

  • Each level of assessment includes different requirements and may be difficult to compare

  • Impact assessments (alone) may not effectively address cumulative effects

How can it help maintain natural infrastructure?

Environmental Impact Assessments at the municipal level can prevent structures and land use activities that may negatively impact the community’s natural infrastructure. Such assessments can require explicit consideration of natural infrastructure assets and functions, and the potential negative effects on them. As well, broadly conceived assessments can also require consideration of the benefits to the community from their natural infrastructure.

Resources

Municipalities and Environmental Assessment: Primer and Model EA Bylaw – As part of the Community Conserve platform, the Environmental Law Centre created a model EA Bylaw and a primer which provides relevant background information.


City of Calgary Environmental Development Review Policy – This policy sets out a process for determining site suitability for proposed use with respect to environmental conditions as part of the planning approval process.


City of Edmonton Environmental Site Assessment Guidebook – This guidebook sets out the City’s requirements for environmental site assessments accompanying land development applications including structure plans, rezoning, subdivision, road closures and development permit applications.


Green Bylaws Toolkit: for conserving sensitive ecosystems and green infrastructure – This document is an important resource for understanding how municipalities can safeguard the environment, from a regional to a site level. It clearly explains each tool, and provides case studies and examples of bylaws that are in use in British Columbia. This document includes a section on Impact Assessment

Did we miss something?

If you know of a resource that should be on this list - or your municipality has a sample or case that should be here, please let us know!

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