Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 (CEAA 2012) offers an updated, modern approach that responds to Canada’s current economic and environmental context. It implements central elements of the Government’s plan for Responsible Resource Development to modernize the regulatory system and allow for natural resources to be developed in a responsible and timely way for the benefit of all Canadians. This overview provides details of CEAA 2012 as it applies to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (the Agency).

Process Diagram: Environmental Assessments Managed by the Agency [PDF - 110 KB]

Federal Areas of Jurisdiction

Under CEAA 2012, an environmental assessment focuses on potential adverse environmental effects that are within federal jurisdiction, including:

  • fish and fish habitat;
  • other aquatic species;
  • migratory birds;
  • federal lands;
  • effects that cross provincial or international boundaries;
  • effects that impact on Aboriginal peoples, such as their use of lands and resources for traditional purposes;
  • changes to the environment that are directly linked to or necessarily incidental to any federal decisions about a project.

An environmental assessment will consider a comprehensive set of factors that include cumulative effects, mitigation measures and comments received from the public.

Determination of Federal Environmental Assessment Requirement

Proponents must provide to the Agency a description of their proposed project if it is captured by regulations outlining projects likely to require federal environmental assessment.

Upon receipt of the proponent’s complete project description, the Agency has 45 days to determine if a federal environmental assessment will be required. This determination will be based on potential for environmental effects in areas of federal jurisdiction. This 45-day time limit includes a 20-day period during which the public is invited to provide comments.

Designated projects that are regulated by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission or the National Energy Board automatically require an environmental assessment by those regulators. Proponents of these projects are not required to submit a project description to the Agency.

The Minister of the Environment may designate a project not identified in regulations if there is the potential for environmental effects in areas of federal jurisdiction or public concerns about such environmental effects.

Environmental Assessment by a Responsible Authority

The responsibility for conducting an environmental assessment rests with:

  • the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (for nuclear projects);
  • the National Energy Board (for international and interprovincial pipelines and transmission lines); or
  • the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (for all other designated projects).

Review Panels

Within 60 days of the start of an environmental assessment, the Minister of the Environment may refer a designated project to an environmental assessment by review panel. A review panel is composed of experts with knowledge and expertise selected to assess a designated project that may cause significant adverse environmental effects. A joint review panel may be established with another jurisdiction such as a province.

Review panels are required to hold public hearings and must do so in a manner that allows interested parties that are directly affected or that have relevant information or expertise the opportunity to participate. The panel must also consider written comments from the public and provide a summary of any comments received in its report.

A review panel submits its report and recommendations to the Minister of the Environment.


The following timelines for the government to complete its work are set by CEAA 2012:

  • 365 days from the commencement of an environmental assessment by the Agency to the final environmental assessment decision; and
  • 24 months for an assessment by review panel from the time of referral to the final environmental assessment decision. The Minister will set project-specific timelines for each phase of the review panel process.

The Minister may extend these timelines for up to three months to enable cooperation with another jurisdiction or because of circumstances that are specific to the project. The federal Cabinet can extend timelines beyond the three months.

The Minister must terminate a review panel that fails to meet its deadline, and may also terminate a review panel when he or she is of the view that it is not likely to meet its deadline. In both cases, the Agency is required to complete the environmental assessment.

Timelines apply to government and panel activities and not to the periods of time required for the proponent to gather information needed to complete the environmental assessment.

Public Participation

CEAA 2012 provides opportunities for public participation throughout the environmental assessment process:

  • There is a new comment period in the initial steps when the Agency is determining whether an environmental assessment is required.
  • An opportunity for public participation is provided during the conduct of all environmental assessments.
  • The public is provided opportunities to comment on the draft environmental assessment report for projects assessed by the Agency.
  • Review panels will be required to hold public hearings during which interested parties can participate. Panels also consider all written comments from the public.
  • The Agency continues to provide funding to facilitate the participation of the public. Funding is received through the Agency’s Participant Funding Program.

Internet Site

Key project information and documents related to an environmental assessment are accessible to the public on the Canadian Environmental Assessment Registry Internet Site (CEARIS), such as:

  • a summary of the proponent’s project description;
  • a notice that an environmental assessment has commenced;
  • notices requesting public input;
  • the factors that will be considered in the environmental assessment;
  • the findings of the environmental assessment;
  • consultation documents; and
  • the decision statement.

Federal-Provincial Integration

The Minister of the Environment, if satisfied that the substantive requirements of CEAA 2012 can be met by a provincial process and if that province requests it, must allow for the substitution of the federal environmental assessment process by the provincial process. While the process for conducting the environmental assessment is no longer the federal process, the Minister of the Environment still makes a decision about whether the environmental effects caused by the project are likely to be significant. The environmental assessment report prepared by the province is used for this decision.

The federal Cabinet may exclude a designated project from application of CEAA 2012 if it determines that a province will undertake an equivalent assessment.

Cooperation and Communication with Aboriginal Peoples

Cooperation and communication with Aboriginal peoples with respect to environmental assessment is a key component of CEAA 2012. The definition of “environmental effects” includes provisions that explicitly relate to Aboriginal peoples and environmental effects that cause changes to their:

  • health and socio-economic conditions;
  • physical and cultural heritage;
  • current use of land and resources for traditional purposes; or
  • structures, sites or things that are of historical, archaeological, paleontological or architectural significance.

Starting environmental assessments early in the planning of a project will assist the Government of Canada in discharging its legal duty to consult and, if appropriate, accommodate Aboriginal peoples when the Crown contemplates conduct (associated with designated projects) that might adversely impact established or potential Aboriginal and treaty rights.

To support Aboriginal engagement in environmental assessment and consultation, funding will be available through the Agency’s Participant Funding program.

Decision-making and Enforcement

At the end of an environmental assessment, the Minister of the Environment determines whether the project is likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects, taking into account mitigation measures that were identified during the environmental assessment. If it is determined that a project is likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects, the federal Cabinet will then decide whether these effects are justified in the circumstances. A decision statement is issued that sets out the decision and associated conditions with which the proponent must comply.

Failure to fulfill the conditions in a decision statement is a violation of CEAA 2012. Enforcement officers will verify compliance and the Minister may also seek an injunction to stop activities that violate CEAA 2012 or to prevent such violations. Contraventions of the CEAA 2012 can result in maximum fines as high as $400,000.

Follow-up Programs

Follow-up programs are mandatory after all environmental assessments. These programs are intended to verify the accuracy of the predictions regarding potential environmental effects and to determine if mitigation measures are working as intended.

Regional Studies

The Minister of the Environment has authority to establish a committee to conduct regional studies – a regional environmental assessment – for regions that are entirely composed of federal lands. The Minister may also establish a committee jointly with another jurisdiction or jurisdictions to conduct a regional study for regions outside federal lands.

Federal Lands

For projects on federal lands that are not designated projects, CEAA 2012 requires that before federal authorities make any decision that would allow a project to proceed, they must determine whether a project is likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects. Federal authorities will report annually to Parliament on the actions taken to fulfill this obligation. Projects outside Canada that receive federal funding or where the Government of Canada is the proponent are subject to this same standard.