The federal government has stepped in and will conduct an environmental assessment of Ontario’s Highway 413 plan, according to news reports.
“Canadians expect their governments to make decisions based on science and evidence that support environmental protection and economic growth,” said Jonathan Wilkinson, federal minister of environment and climate change.
“The Impact Assessment Agency of Canada and other federal departments have identified clear areas of federal concern related to this project. My decision is based on their finding that this project may cause adverse direct or incidental effects on federally-listed species at risk, and the uncertainty that officials have brought to my attention around whether those effects can be mitigated through project design or existing mechanisms,” according to his written statement.
“I have decided to designate this project under the federal impact assessment process.”
Caroline Mulroney, Ontario’s transportation minister, said the province is uncertain what the federal intervention will mean for the mega-project that would loop around the northwest of Toronto.
“The GTA West project is already subject to a robust provincial Individual Environmental Assessment (EA), which is among the most stringent assessment processes on record. This project is intended to address congestion and forecasted population growth for the people of Ontario,” Mulroney said.
“At this point, it is unclear what the scope of a federal impact assessment would be, or whether a full impact assessment would be warranted, especially given the fact that the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada has concluded that concerns surrounding environmental impacts ‘are expected to be addressed through federal and provincial regulatory processes’ that already exist,” according to her written statement.
A joint statement issued by Environmental Defence and Ecojustice called the federal decision “necessary,” accusing the Ontario government of “undermin[ing] the environmental reviews of this highway and race to its construction.”
“The federal environmental assessment will ensure a robust process for identifying and mitigating, where possible, any environmental impacts from Highway 413, and will ensure that climate change is adequately considered,” Laura Bowman, a lawyer with Ecojustice, said in the statement.
“We are confident that this added scrutiny will ultimately reveal that this highway is not in the public interest.”