Fixing the Canadian Environmental Protection Act
39th PARLIAMENT, 1st SESSION
Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
Mr. Michael Teeter (Principal, Hillwatch Inc., As an Individual):
Thank you, Mr. Chairman and Mr. Clerk, for inviting me today to talk about timelines and my experiences.
I'm here representing myself only, but I've had many years of experience working on CEPA for the salt industry, the fertilizer sector, and the treated wood sector; and as an adviser to some members of the ICG during the GHG debate.
I guess you might call me an industry lobbyist, but I don't really define myself that way. I'm always looking to find common ground between industry and government and other non-governmental organizations, and I hope my comments today will be taken in that light. I try my best to define the public interest in a way that's consistent with the interests of all stakeholders.
My theme here is that I think we should really focus first on what unites us rather than what divides us, and I think the structure of CEPA today is focused too much on those things that divide the stakeholders.
My assumption is that we're here to talk about timelines because we want the process to facilitate environmental management faster and more efficiently. In this respect, the question we are considering is whether we need to amend the timeline requirements in CEPA to accomplish this goal. Obviously some people would say yes to that question. I would say we don't need to, but we need to give the administrators of CEPA some new tools to get to environmental actions faster. So I'm going to talk a little bit about those things I recommend.
The PSL process for road salts and ammonia has been about eight years in discussion, but the two assessments I was deeply involved in, particularly on road salts, were really structured on the need from an industry perspective to stigmatize the product as toxic, and to be placed on schedule 1 of CEPA before any positive environmental actions were taken. With this approach there's an implicit structure that completely divides the stakeholders.
First, by designating the toxic label there's an inherent assumption that product use should be minimized or avoided, and that substitutes are better. This might not even be true, and in the case of road salts it's absolutely not. Substitutes haven't even been assessed, and where they have been assessed they're deemed to be worse than the road salts themselves. When a product is attacked like that, the business is impacted, and shareholder interest demands that defensive actions be taken.
Second, I think the process is founded on controversy and adversarial structures, as opposed to working-together structures, because there are countless numbers of people involved in the process in an effort to try to list something as toxic. In other words, they define their goal in government as, “Put it on the list; I've achieved my ends.” What do those ends have to do with fixing the environment?
People spend years of their lives defining their mission as getting a substance on schedule 1. Meanwhile, all those years and all those resources are expended on that and nothing's happening for the environment. So this is just about conflict; it's not about doing anything for the environment.
Unlike what people may think or be told, industry has a direct interest in investing in risk management and good management practices. It's simply good for business, particularly in today's environment--no pun intended--when clearly the environment is being seen by the public as an increasingly important issue. So we all have common interests here.
Assuming we all want to invest in positive environmental actions faster and with more enthusiasm, I would recommend the following. Instead of focusing the debate on substances or products, focus on how those products are used. In other words, put the debate into context. People can more readily agree on this discussion.
What would you have to do to the statute if that were your intent? You might have to make a slight adjustment to the section 3 definition of substance.
The other recommendation I'd make is start the risk management discussions as soon as the assessment has begun. You might find a surprisingly large amount of consensus already about what needs to be done now in the context of managing the environment, the substance in the environment, or the context that is being used. So those resources that are now expended on fighting each other could instead be used to actually get into environmental actions faster. I don't think there's any statutory change required in order to start a two-track process where you begin the risk management discussions as the risk assessment is taking place.
Put more rigour into the scientific assessment process, not less. Bad science should never be used to justify environmental actions. Unfortunately, when you're on strict timelines sometimes that happens because the objective of the officials is to get the substance on a list. They define their achievements on that basis. Sometimes bad science drives that because they want to get there faster, but they're doing nothing for the environment while all that pain and suffering is going on. I'm saying introduce a mandatory independent peer review structure. We've made that recommendation before. In my opinion, sound science is not the thing that holds us back from consensus in environmental actions. You'd have to add a clause to the statute to require mandatory peer review in order to achieve this recommendation.
We've said this before, and we'll say it again: we think there should be another listing category in CEPA for substances that simply do not belong on schedule 1, substances that are clearly not toxic in the ordinary sense. Again, I think that if this were put into the statute you'd reach conclusions faster and consensus risk management actions would start more quickly. If you were going to follow this recommendation you'd probably have to add another schedule to CEPA, schedule 8, and I'd say call it “other”, as it doesn't need a name.
The last thing is that the ability to regulate is often as effective as regulation itself. The process itself, because Environment Canada or Health Canada is taking action either through the DSL or PSL process, can be a tremendous catalyst to drive effective risk management. People want to get into solutions, they want to solve the problem, and they want to invest in the environment. That's a given.
Once risk management is in place the whole discussion on listing, if there's a stigma issue or anything, can actually be left unanswered. It doesn't need to be answered right away, as long as the environmental actions are being taken to the satisfaction of the regulators. It's only necessary to get into the whole debate on whether it's listed on schedule 1--or schedule 8 if you took my recommendations, if regulation is required.
Is the answer to society thousands and thousands of substance-based regulations? I don't think so. I think the stakeholders have to invest in environmental management. There aren't enough regulators in this country to actually enforce those kinds of regulations. The end game here is to get everybody to invest in environmental management, not to invest in regulations.
I think if you were to adopt these perspectives, although there are some statutory issues that I'm recommending, more often than not what we're talking about here is a culture change. It's a culture change inside government and how it works. It's just simply saying let's get to consensus actions faster, let's invest in the environment faster, let's work together, and let's not talk about what divides us.
I look forward to participating in the debate on specific timelines.