Environmental Assessment

The Province supports sustainable development in the Ring of Fire, while upholding Ontario’s commitment to protecting the environment. Environmental assessments at both the provincial and federal levels are rigorous undertakings intended to identify, predict and mitigate any effects that the projects may have on the environment. The environmental assessment process ensures that public concerns are heard, our duty and commitment to First Nations consultation is met and potential economic, social, cultural and environmental impacts are taken into account.

In 2011, the federal and provincial environmental assessments (EA) commenced for Cliffs Natural Resources’ proposed Black Thor Project and Noront Resources Inc.’s Eagles Nest Project. Coordination of the provincial and federal processes is key to successful completion of the environmental assessments in the most effective and efficient manner possible that will meet all provincial and federal requirements, including Aboriginal consultation. The Ministry of Northern Development and Mines, through the Ring of Fire Secretariat, has the overall lead for proposed developments in the Ring of Fire and continues to play a coordinating role with respect to environmental assessments and Aboriginal engagement.

Environmental Assessment Processes

  • Proposed mining and infrastructure projects in the Ring of Fire require approvals under federal and provincial legislation. Cliffs and Noront have volunteered to make their projects subject to an environmental assessment under the Ontario Environmental Assessment Act (EAA) and are completing environmental assessments under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA).
  • While the over arching objectives of both pieces of legislation are similar, there are significant differences in application.

Provincial EA

  • Ontario’s EAA does not usually apply to an entire mine project because the EAA does not apply to private companies unless designated by regulation or the company volunteers to be subject to the requirements of the EAA.
  • However, some parts of a mine might be subject to the requirements of the EAA through existing class environmental assessments or regulations.  Such activities include:
    • Granting permits on Crown land, disposition of Crown resources;
    • Constructing power generation or transmission facilities;
    • Construction related to provincial transportation facilities;
    • Establishing a waste management facility.
  • In the case of Cliffs and Noront, the companies has entered into a voluntary agreement with the Ontario Ministry of the Environment (MOE) making their entire mining projects subject to the requirements of the EAA.  They will be undertaking an individual environmental assessment.

Federal EA

  • Under the CEAA, there are triggers based on the nature of the project that determine whether a project is subject to the requirements of the CEAA and whether an environmental assessment must be undertaken.
  • A range of major projects (including mines that meet specific minimum requirements) are categorized as comprehensive studies as defined by regulation under the CEAA.
  • These projects must start out as a comprehensive study, but as more information becomes available, a decision could be made to refer a project to a review panel.
    • This decision can be made at any time in the process.
  • Under the CEAA, the decision to refer a project to a review panel is made by the federal Minister of the Environment.
  • Both comprehensive studies and review panels involve the same level of rigour and require extensive public and Aboriginal consultation.
  • The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (the CEA Agency) is responsible for coordination and implementation of the federal comprehensive environmental assessment process.

Coordination of Federal and Provincial Environmental Assessments

  • Canada and Ontario have signed an Agreement on EA Cooperation.
  • It is the intent that the federal and provincial environmental assessments for the Cliffs and Noront projects will be coordinated by the CEA Agency and MOE.
  • This means that:
    • Rigorous environmental assessment processes will be undertaken that are coordinated and efficient.
    • Consultation opportunities will be coordinated to the extent possible.
    • As much as possible, there will only be one set of technical studies for each project that will be made available for review.
    • Canada and Ontario will work with Cliffs and Noront to make sure that their technical studies will meet the requirements of both federal and provincial environmental assessment legislation which will support decision makers at both levels of government and will encourage  the submission of one environmental assessment report for each project.
    • Opportunities to review the environmental assessment report will be coordinated when possible so that Aboriginal groups and other stakeholders will only need to send in one set of comments on similar documents.

Next Steps in the Environmental Assessment Process

With the federal environmental assessment guideline documents (Environmental Impact Statement Guidelines) finalized, and if the provincial Terms of Reference are approved by MOE, Cliffs and Noront can proceed to undertake their technical studies and prepare the environmental assessment report in accordance with these documents. Cliffs and Noront are required to engage potentially affected Aboriginal groups and stakeholders at various times during this process.

Each proponent will prepare a draft environmental assessment report in consultation with the public, Aboriginal groups and the government and, once complete, it will circulate the document for input.

Once the proponent has revised its draft environmental assessment report based on comments received, it will formally submit it to MOE for review, and the CEA Agency will prepare a draft Comprehensive Study Report (CSR).  The CSR is a document prepared by the CEA Agency that presents the Agency’s views of the findings of a comprehensive study.

As soon as the environmental assessment report is formally submitted to MOE, there is a seven-week comment period in which Aboriginal communities, the public and government technical reviewers may review the document and provide comments.

During this time, the CEA Agency will continue to prepare its CSR with Aboriginal groups and government technical reviewers being given the opportunity to comment.

MOE will review comments received during the seven-week comment period and ensure that the proponent has addressed them.  The ministry will then publish a ministry review which will demonstrate whether the proponent has met the requirements of the EAA, whether the environmental assessment has been prepared in accordance with the approved Terms of Reference, and whether the proposal is in the public interest. There is a five-week period in which Aboriginal groups, the public and government technical reviewers may provide comments on the ministry review.

At the same time the CEA Agency submits the CSR to the federal Minister of the Environment and posts it for public comment and Aboriginal group review.  This will be a coordinated review of the ministry review and the CSR.

After this, MOE will prepare a recommendation for the Minister based on all of the input received. The Minister, with the approval of the Ontario Cabinet, may approve the project, refuse the project or approve the project with conditions.

The federal Minister of the Environment will also be making a determination. He will either determine that the project is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects once mitigation measures are taken into account, in which case federal departments and agencies may go ahead and issue any required permits or authorizations; or, that it is likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects once mitigation measures are taken into account in which case federal departments and agencies will not issue any required permits or authorizations.

Post-Environmental Assessment Permitting and Authorizations

Permits and authorizations will be required before construction and operation of the project can take place.

Provincially, permits that may be required include:

  • Environmental Compliance Approval for air emissions, waste and industrial sewage under the Environmental Protection Act (MOE)
  • Permits to take water under the Ontario Water Resources Act (MOE)
  • Permit under the Endangered Species Act (MNR)
  • Disposition to rights of Crown land and resources under the Public Lands Act (MNR)
  • Approvals for tailings and water storage facilities under the Lakes and Rivers Improvement Act (MNR)
  • Forest resource under the Crown Forest Sustainability Act (MNR)
  • Aggregate permits under the Aggregate Resources Act (MNR)
  • Closure Plan under the Mining Act (MNDM)

Federally, permits and authorizations that may be required include:

  • Licence for an explosives factory under the Explosives Act (NRCan)
  • HADD authorization under the Fisheries Act (DFO)
  • Schedule 2 Metal Mining Effluent Regulation for tailing impoundments under the Fisheries Act (DFO)
  • Approval for construction of works in navigable waters under the Navigable Waters Protection Act (TC)

Aboriginal Consultation and Engagement during the EA

Consultation and engagement is a cornerstone of the EA process at both the provincial and federal levels particularly with Aboriginal communities whose Aboriginal and treaty rights may be affected by development in the Ring of Fire.

Both the provincial and federal governments have a duty to consult when the Crown contemplates action that may have an adverse impact on an established or asserted Aboriginal or treaty right.

In addition, Aboriginal communities’ local knowledge of the land, as well as their values contribute to the environmental assessment process to allow for potential environmental effects to be assessed and evaluated appropriately.

Proponents are also required to engage with Aboriginal communities to allow them to identify and consider potential concerns and issues, and to provide those communities with an opportunity to receive information about, and have meaningful input into, the development of the environmental assessment.

The Secretariat is working with Aboriginal communities which are in reasonable proximity to, and may be affected by, potential development in the Ring of Fire mineral zone to encourage them to be fully engaged, active participants throughout the environmental assessment process.  The Secretariat is also working with other ministries to ensure that Ontario meets any duty to consult and, if appropriate accommodate, that exists.

The Secretariat is also working with the MOE and the CEA Agency to facilitate coordinated federal/provincial consultation opportunities with Aboriginal communities. Aboriginal consultation related to the ongoing environmental assessments is being coordinated by the federal and provincial governments wherever possible.

In addition, the Secretariat is working with other provincial ministries to provide capacity funding for Aboriginal communities to participate fully and effectively during the EA process.

Aboriginal consultation will not stop when the environmental assessment process is completed. Rather, consultation will continue through the permitting stage, operation of the mines and long-term monitoring, should the company successfully complete the coordinated environmental assessment process.

Moving Forward

Long-Term Environmental Monitoring

To ensure the protection of the environment from any combined effects of these large projects, long-term monitoring of environmental impacts on a regional basis is being considered. Such an approach would involve the collection of baseline data to support future regional and cumulative impacts evaluation, and ongoing monitoring.

Engagement of First Nation and local communities is required so that communities are provided the opportunity to participate in long-term monitoring of environmental impacts. The Province will work with First nation communities to identify how community values might be incorporated into any data collection and monitoring programs, and will seek opportunities for communities to participate in these programs.

Ontario is also inviting First Nations to a dialogue on the next stage of how to responsibly develop resources.