Ontario Environmental Protection Act and Regulatory Changes: More Brownfields Open for Business

Written by F.F. (Rick) Coburn and Barbora Grochalova, Borden Ladner Gervais LLP (“BLG“)

On May 2, 2019, the Government of Ontario introduced Bill 108, the More Homes, More Choice Act, 2019. Bill 108 makes several amendments to the Environmental Protection Act (EPA), such as enhancing the enforcement powers available to the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks (the Ministry), and broadening the scope of use of administrative monetary penalties.

The Ministry has also proposed amendments to the Records of Site Condition Regulation (O. Reg.153/04, Brownfields Regulation), with the stated purpose of enhancing the economic viability of brownfield projects by reducing delays, enhancing clarity, and providing certainty for redevelopment. The proposed regulatory amendments are provided on the Environmental Registry.

Brownfields and Redevelopment

Brownfields are properties that have become contaminated as a result of prior industrial or commercial use. Brownfield properties are often left vacant or underutilized, and may be located in areas where redevelopment would otherwise be desirable.

The Brownfields Regulation governs the process of redevelopment of contaminated properties and converting them into more sensitive types of use. Part XV.1 of the EPA only allows the change of use of a property from those that are potential sources of contamination to the types of use that are more sensitive (e.g., residential, agricultural, community, or institutional use) upon first completing and filing a Record of Site Condition (RSC). An RSC summarizes the environmental condition of the RSC property, describes any contaminants that are found to exceed the applicable standard, and reports any remediation measures that were done, including the removal of contaminated soil from the RSC property.

Proposed Exemptions to the Requirement to File a Record of Site Condition

The proposed regulatory amendments exempt certain redevelopment from the requirement to file an RSC.

  • Low-rise buildings changing from commercial or community use to a mixed use adding either residential and institutional use would be exempt, as long as the residential and institutional use is limited to floors above the ground floor. This exemption would only apply to properties that have never been in industrial use, or as a garage, a bulk liquid dispensing facility, a gas station or a dry cleaning operation, and if the building envelope will not be changed during the redevelopment.
  • Properties which are not otherwise included in the exemption described above may be exempt in situations where a part of a building is already in residential or institutional use and another part is used for commercial or community use, and the property is converted for a more sensitive use. This exemption would similarly be applicable only to properties that have never been in industrial use, or as a garage, a bulk liquid dispensing facility, a gas station or a dry cleaning operation, and the building envelope will not be changed during the redevelopment.
  • The definition of community use is proposed to be amended by removing from the definition temporary roads that are required only during the early phases of construction. The effect of this change is that an RSC would not be required once the temporary roads are converted to residential use when the buildout is completed.  
  • The conversion of indoor places of worship to residential use is also proposed to be exempt from the requirement to file an RSC.
  • Indoor cultivation of crops using hydroponics or other cultivation methods that do not rely on soil from the property is proposed to be defined as industrial use, as opposed to the more sensitive agricultural use, if the building was previously in industrial, commercial, or community use.

Additional Situations Deemed not to Exceed the Standard

The brownfields regime requires that if the RSC property is contaminated, the concentrations of each contaminant must be sampled and evaluated against the generic site condition standard. If certain contaminants exceed the applicable standard, the owner of the RSC property must either undertake further remediation, or prepare a risk assessment that provides a site-specific plan to address the risk posed by the exposure to those substances.

The Brownfields Regulation already included a provision by which exceedances resulting from the application of road salt or other de-icing substances were deemed to be within the standard. The deeming provision was previously restricted only to road salt use on a highway by the Ministry of Transportation and road authorities, but that restriction would be removed by the proposed amendments. Three new situations are proposed to be added where exceedances on any property are deemed to meet the standard:

  • Exceedances resulting from a discharge of treated drinking water;
  • Exceedances in fill material where a contaminant exceeds the applicable standard but does not exceed the naturally occurring concentration typically found in the area; and
  • Exceedances that arise from the deposit of excess soil onto the subject property, if the concentrations are in accordance with the standards established as part of the proposed On-Site and Excess Soil Management Regulation. (This proposed regulation would establish a comprehensive excess soil management regime, and will be discussed in more detail in a future update.)

Reduced Requirement to Delineate Contaminants

The Brownfields Regulation prescribes the requirements for phase one and phase two environmental site assessments. One of the elements required of a phase two study has previously been the full delineation, vertically and laterally, of contaminants which exceed the applicable site condition standards.

The proposed amendments introduce a “non-standard delineation”, which would not require the delineation of the full extent of a contaminant on the phase two property in situations where a risk assessment for that property has been accepted by the Ministry. The phase two study must instead show that appropriate steps have been taken to locate the maximum concentration of each contaminant found on the property, and that any additional efforts to delineate the contaminant are unlikely to contribute significant or meaningful information.

The proposed amendments to the Brownfields Regulation also introduce other technical changes to how phase one, phase two, risk assessment and other environmental studies are to be completed.

While the Brownfields Regulation are not part of Bill 108, these proposed amendments are an important piece in the larger landscape of changing environmental and land-use laws in Ontario. The majority of the amendments are proposed to come into force on the day the regulation will be filed. The proposed regulatory amendments are provided on the Ontario Environmental Registry.


About the Authors

Rick Coburn is a partner in the Toronto office of Borden Ladner Gervais LLP. Rick practises in the area of environmental law with an emphasis on environmental aspects of major development initiatives and transactions involving heavy industry, transportation, energy and infrastructure projects. With members of BLG’s litigation practice groups, he also acts as defence counsel on regulatory prosecutions and in civil actions.

Barbora Grochalova

Barbora Grochalova is an associate in the Environmental, Municipal, Expropriation and Regulatory Group in our Toronto office. Barbora is member of the Canadian and Ontario Bar Associations and acted as Counsel for the Canadian Environmental Law Association prior to joining BLG. She has had exposure to many different areas of law, with a focus on environmental, administrative, and regulatory matters before the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) and the Environmental Review Tribunal (ERT).