Ontario Government’s Plans on the Environment: Impact on Brownfield Development

The Ontario Government released a Made-in-Ontario Environment Plan in late 2018 in partially in response to criticism that it had no plan for addressing climate change after it cancelled the greenhouse gas (GHG) cap-and-trade program of the previous government. The plan includes several proposals that should be on interest to persons involved in brownfield development.

The Ontario government 52-page document (entitled (“Preserving and Protecting or Environment for Future Generations: A Made-in-Ontario Environment Plan”) commits to protecting air, lakes and rivers; addressing climate change; reducing litter and waste; and conserving land and greenspace. Many of the measures establish a direction but the details will have to be further developed.

With respect to contaminated sites and brownfields, the document talks about the “polluter pay”, and engaging environment business and entrepreneurs. However, it is lacking in details.

Generating GHG from Brownfield Projects

The Ontario government’s proposed replaced to the scraped GHG trading regulation is the Creating the Ontario Carbon Fund. While details are to be worked out, the plan proposes to use $400M of government funding with the aim of leveraging additional private funds on a 4:1 basis to support “investment in clean technologies that are commercially viable.” The fund will also support a “reverse auction” model whereby emitters will “bid” for funding to support their GHG reduction projects.

There is a possibility that developers involved in brownfield redevelopment could be eligible for government funding depending on if clean technologies are employed in the clean-up and GHG reductions are realized versus the traditional dig-and-dump approach to site clean-up.

2010 Photo of the former Kitchener Frame Building (Photo Credit: Philip Walker/Record staff)

Streamlined environmental approvals

The Made-in-Ontario Plan notes that environmental approvals should be prioritized for businesses that want to implement low GHG technology or approaches. This is the latest promise from the Ontario government to speed up the approval process.

Seasoned veterans in the environmental sector remember similar promises made the government on fast-tracked approvals. There are still those who remember the Environmental Leaders Program in which speedy approval was promised to companies that committed to above-compliance environmental activities and targets.

With respect to this latest promise on speedy approvals, the document is silent on if “speed” will be applied to the Environment Ministry review of site specific risk assessments (SSRA’s) that are submitted to the Ontario Environment Ministry for approval instead of following the generic clean-up standards.

Measures to promote healthy, clean soils

The Made-in-Ontario Plan plan commits to “revise the brownfield regulation and record of site condition guide” as part of a basket of measures to promote clean soils. Again, the document is lacking in details.

The previous Ontario government had proposed reasonable changes to the Record of Site Condition Regulations (O. Reg. 153/04). One important aspect of the proposed change is related to road-salt impacts on a property. As the regulations currently stands, road salt-related impacts can only be exempted from clean-up if it can be proven they are related to the application of de-icing salts on a public highway. Under the proposed changes to the regulations, the exemption will include road salt applied to a property ‘for the purpose of traffic and pedestrian safety under conditions of snow/ice’. This one change, if implemented, would save thousands of dollars in clean-up costs at many sites undergoing redevelopment in Ontario.

The previous Ontario government had also proposed a much-need excess soil regulation. There has been extensive consultation on the proposed regulation over a five-year period. If implemented, the regulation would address the gaps surrounding the ability for enforcement on mismanagement of excess soils in Ontario. It would also open up the opportunity for beneficial reuse of excess soil.

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