Thank you, Chair and committee members, for taking an interest in the work of Environment Canada.
In my opening remarks I'd like to address three issues. First, I'll provide a brief overview of environmental management generally in Canada. Second, I'll outline the nature of the environmental management regime on reserves, and I apologize if I'm duplicating testimony you've already heard. And then third, I'll explain some of the initiatives Environment Canada has taken to strengthen environmental management on reserves and on aboriginal lands.
Environmental management in Canada involves a broad range of activities, including scientific research and risk assessment, the development of standards and regulations, licensing, permitting, monitoring, enforcement, public education, and compliance promotion. Responsibility for environmental management in Canada is shared among the federal, provincial, and municipal levels of government. Provinces and municipalities have primary responsibility for natural resources, land and water use, and local issues including waste management. Through their control of land use planning and facility approval processes, they manage the environmental impacts of a wide range of residential, commercial, institutional, and industrial activities.
Environment Canada is primarily responsible for issues of national concern. Regulations passed under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, for example, allow the department to manage issues such as the release of toxic substances, the export and import of hazardous wastes, air emissions from fuels, engines, and vehicles, and environmental emergencies. The Fisheries Act prohibits the deposit of deleterious substances into fish-bearing waters. And under the Species at Risk Act, we work with Parks Canada and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to identify and protect endangered wildlife and their critical habitat throughout Canada. Under the Migratory Birds Convention Act, we regulate the hunting of more than 500 species of migratory birds and put in place measures to ensure these birds remain abundant.
Other federal departments also contribute to environmental management in Canada. For example, Parks Canada protects nationally significant examples of Canada's natural heritage; Fisheries and Oceans is responsible for ensuring healthy aquatic ecosystems and sustainable fisheries; Transport Canada regulates the transportation of dangerous goods and various environmental aspects of rail, ship, and train performance throughout Canada; Natural Resources Canada supports the sustainable development of our natural resources; and of course Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, from whom you have already heard considerable testimony, influences environmental performance on reserves and in the north in multiple ways, including through its application of framework legislation, through the development of land claims and self-government agreements, through its participation in the contaminated sites program, and through its extensive programs to enable reserves to manage land use and resource development issues.
There are various environmental management challenges on reserve, some of which stem from the fact that while federal laws apply throughout Canada, including on reserves, provincial laws related to lands and their use generally do not. As a result, reserve lands generally do not benefit from the full range of environmental protection that applies off reserve. Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada and Environment Canada have worked with aboriginal partners to identify the environmental issues that arise as a result of this gap, to identify which are the most significant, and to address the more difficult question of what is the best way to address these issues.
While circumstances vary greatly from one reserve to the next, the most important environmental issues likely relate to solid waste management, hazardous waste management, waste water discharges, environmental emergencies, and source water protection. The environmental and health consequences of these potential so-called gaps can vary widely depending on the level of development on a reserve, population density, remoteness, and a range of other factors. In addition, the lack of clearly defined rules can undermine economic development by creating investment uncertainty.
So what’s our role? The vast majority of Environment Canada's regulations apply throughout Canada on private and provincial lands, on federal lands, and on aboriginal lands. Some of these regulations, of course, address significant environmental issues on reserves. When that is the case, we spend considerable time and effort consulting with aboriginal partners, both about the standards themselves and about how to ensure their effective implementation on aboriginal lands. For example, we are developing regulations to phase out the dumping of under-treated sewage into our waterways.
In 2010 we proposed wastewater systems effluent regulations and then spent over a year engaging with provinces, municipalities, and aboriginal organizations. We now anticipate publishing the final regulations this coming winter. These regulations will establish clear standards throughout Canada, including on first nations communities, other than small waste water systems, and they will not apply in the north, where we need to do more research to develop cost-effective treatments for extremely cold climates. We're planning significant outreach activities to support the effective implementation of these regulations on reserves.
In addition to these types of specific environmental protection regulations, we also play an important role in supporting conservation. Of course, popular conservation programs can raise a number of challenges, particularly where long-term public interest goals of maintaining biological diversity bump up against private land use and resource development interests. These issues apply throughout Canada, but they can be particularly significant for aboriginal people. On the one hand, traditional environmental knowledge, values, and modes of interaction with the landscape and wildlife mean that many aboriginal lands represent valuable reservoirs of species at risk. On the other hand, in the absence of effective governance regimes and tools, specific restrictions associated with species at risk protections can be seen as impediments to development opportunities on reserves.
Recognizing this challenge, our species at risk program supports capacity-building on reserves. We have a number of stewardship funds, including a dedicated aboriginal fund for species at risk, and a broader habitat stewardship fund, both of which support the development of practical tools to allow aboriginal communities to manage their species at risk obligations in ways that also enable economic development to occur.
We're also working with our colleagues at Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada to find opportunities to support or leverage other programs to build aboriginal capacity, for example, by linking conservation goals with that department's efforts to strengthen land-use planning on reserves, as land-use planning can provide an important foundation for both economic development and the effective management of conservation objectives.
Although most of our authorities apply nationwide, we also have some authority under part 9 of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act to issue regulations that are specifically focused on federal operations, federal lands, and aboriginal lands.
As the 2009 Auditor General's report noted, studies have consistently identified a number of important issues on reserves. In particular, petroleum fuel storage is one of the key environmental threats on reserves. In response to this concern, the government enacted the storage tank systems for petroleum products and allied petroleum products regulations in 2008. We rarely win prizes for the titles of our regulations. These regulations were promulgated under part 9 of CEPA, and essentially they establish the same standard on federal lands and reserves as applies off federal lands and off reserves by provincial requirements.
In addition to promulgating regulations, an important role of the department is to support capacity to ensure that the regulations targeted on reserves can actually be implemented. As such, we've delivered over 60 information and training sessions to first nations, which have involved more than 200 first nations communities. In addition, we're working with the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, which has committed almost $80 million to help bring storage tank systems on reserves into compliance with the regulations.
Developing practical and properly resourced solutions is significantly more challenging than either identifying the gaps themselves or coming up with a particular regulatory solution. The key issue on reserves, as you've no doubt heard repeatedly, is often capacity development, both in terms of technical skills and in terms of governance authorities.
Environment Canada, as I've described with respect to storage tanks and species at risk, can and does support technical capacity in terms of providing regulatory compliance promotion and skills development. However, the role of our department with respect to governance authorities on reserves is much more limited. We're primarily a regulatory department, and our authority under part 9 of CEPA is just that. It authorizes the department to regulate on reserve those issues that are regulated by provinces off reserve.
This authority is a backstop authority, and there are at least a couple of reasons to consider using it with caution. First, each reserve likely has different challenges and priorities and may be ill-served by the imposition of a series of uniform federal regulations. Second, before imposing new legal obligations it may be more important to ensure that reserves have the legal and institutional capacity to manage their own environmental risks in ways that account for their own land use and commercial and industrial development goals.
In conclusion, there are many federal legislative authorities and programs in place working to address environmental management on reserves. There is no doubt a need to better align these activities and possibly add to them. However, regulations alone are unlikely to solve the environmental challenges on reserves.
Environment Canada is committed to working with our partners to enhance first nations' legal and technical capacity to identify and manage environmental issues, and to enable much-needed environmentally sound investment and development on reserves.