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COVID-19 and your environmental obligations – Cross-country update

The government and industry response to the global COVID-19 pandemic is evolving at a pace unprecedented for regulatory change. Our March 31 article provides an initial overview of how to protect your business from potential consequences of non-compliance with regulatory and contractual obligations.

Below is an update on the latest changes across the country. BLG’s environmental team can assist with specific advice on any issues that arise with environmental compliance related to COVID-19.

Latest update – British Columbia

  • On April 1, the British Columbia government introduced amendments to the Greenhouse Gas Emission Reporting Regulation (Order in-Council No. 158), altering the reporting requirements; allowing for extensions for the submittal of verification statements, emission reports and compliance reports (by up to 6 months); and providing an option for virtual site visits. At present, all other requirements remain unchanged.
  • On April 2, the British Columbia government issued Ministerial Order No. MO94, the Protection Against Liability (COVID 19) Order. The order provides protection to persons who operate or provide essential services from liability for damages relating, directly or indirectly, to COVID-19, if those persons operate or provide those services, or reasonably believe that they are operating or providing those services, in accordance with all applicable emergency and public health guidance. Essential services are broadly defined and include businesses that support environmental management/monitoring and spill cleanup and response, including environmental consulting firms, professional engineers and geoscientists, septic haulers, well drillers, pesticides applicators and exterminators, management of industrial sewage/effluent (e.g., for mining operations) and environmental laboratories. Notably, permitting processing and licensing for forestry and environmental projects and services are also considered "Non-Health Essential Service Providers".

Latest update – Alberta

  • On March 20, the Alberta government issued Ministerial Order 17/20201 pursuant to which the government suspended a number of routine reporting requirements under the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act (EPEA) the Water Act and the Public Lands Act, citing hardships brought on by the COVID-19 outbreak. With particular respect to EPEA, excepting drinking water facilities, the order suspends the reporting requirements contained in terms and conditions for approvals or registrations issued under EPEA until August 14, 2020 (unless the order is terminated earlier). All other requirements under EPEA, such as the requirement to monitor and collect data, remain enforceable. The requirement to report the release of harmful substances under Section 110 of EPEAis, importantly, also not impacted by the order.

Latest update – Ontario

  • We previously advised that the list of essential workplaces that are permitted to operate physical locations vary by province. Effective April 4, Ontario released a more restrictive list of essential workplaces, which limits environmental services to businesses that deliver or support the delivery of “environmental rehabilitation, management and monitoring, and spill clean up and response.” We note that the amended definition allows limited fieldwork to continue, but many projects will not proceed at the expected pace.
  • Effective April 1, Ontario has suspended the public engagement requirements under the Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR). The EBR mandates 14 of Ontario’s ministries to provide proposals for policies, acts, regulations and instruments online for public comment, and to consider the ministerial statements of environmental values when making decisions that might significantly affect the environment. Ministries will now post new acts, regulations, polices and instruments on the environmental registry for information purposes. This suspension is in place until 30 days after the state of emergency in Ontario is lifted. 

Latest update – Québec

  • The online MEFCC COVID-19 update as of April 2 states that the Québec Center for Environmental Control (QCEC) will act with flexibility towards businesses in the current context. The QCEC services, including on-site inspections, will be affected.
  • The QCEC confirms that legal obligations remain and that businesses should do everything they can to avoid any damage to the environment. For facilities that temporarily ceased their operations or those who qualify as an essential service, the QCEC will be more flexible in enforcing their administrative obligations.
  • The QCEC is also adjusting its approach to non-compliance. Follow-up measures, notices of non-compliance and monetary administrative penalties for example will be limited. Each situation will be assessed on a case-by-case basis, but it appears that in the majority of non-compliance cases, coercive tools will not be used.
  • The other significant update in Québec is the temporary exemption to obtain a ministerial authorization for activities related to the production of medical or sanitary equipment such as personal protective equipment (i.e. gloves, masks, gowns, disinfectants, wipes, respirators, etc.). Businesses that will be able to benefit from this temporary exemption are the following:
    • Businesses who temporarily modify an activity such as the increase in production to provide additional essential products related to the COVID-19 pandemic; or
    • Businesses who temporarily add an activity such as a new line of production for medical or sanitary equipment related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Latest update – Recycling stewardship programs

Companies with packaging and paper product (PPP) obligations arising from recycling stewardship programs (also known as the extended producer responsibility) will be able to benefit from flexible reporting obligations this year, including extended deadlines to file reports, and expanded payment deferral options. Stewardships in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario have announced relaxing their reporting obligations.

1 The Alberta Government also issued Ministerial Order 15/2020 and 16/2020 on the same day which together defer submission deadlines for 2019  compliance and emission reduction plan reports under the Technology Innovation and Emissions Reduction Regulation and the Renewable Fuels Standard Regulation until June 30, 2020.

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