• Looking Back: A Decade in Review

  • As we begin a new decade, I thought I would look back at a few significant environmental events and trends from the twenty-tens.

    Updated Regulations and Standards
    The 'tens' saw the modernization of numerous environmental regulations in many Canadian jurisdictions, with a focus on environmental protection and responsible redevelopment. In Ontario, environmental legislation (O. Reg. 153/04), first introduced in 2004 was fully enacted in 2011, and recently updated in 2019 with amendments aimed at beneficial soil-reuse and streamlined Brownfields redevelopment.  British Columbia undertook a major revamp of their Contaminated Sites Regulations from 2016 to 2017. CSA Standards for Environmental Site Assessment (Z768-01) saw relatively few changes when it was re-affirmed in 2012, while ASTM standards (E1527) introduced vapour intrusion, revised regulatory file review and new definitions in a 2013 update.  In Ontario, totally new rules for Phase 1 and 2 ESA were finalized in 2011 for properties where a Record of Site Condition was required.

    Environmental Fines on the Rise
    Along with new regulations, we saw significant increases in environmental penalties across Canada. Beginning in 2012 with an updated fine regime under the federal Environmental Enforcement Act and continuing with the introduction of minimum fines under the Ontario EPA and stricter provincial regulations in Quebec, Alberta and BC; the magnitude and frequency of fines soared.  As all levels of government look for costs savings and revenue sources, this new 'tough on polluters' stance  included orders and fines for past and present corporate officers, and even in some cases to non-polluting third parties. This aggressive approach to enforcement and deterrence also contributed to a massive $15M penalty for Volkswagen in 2016 for false environmental marketing claims.

    A Decade of Natural and Man-Made Disasters
    Unfortunately, the Tens were a decade that experienced numerous environmental disasters, some natural and some man-made. The latter half of the decade saw epic floods in BC (2016), Quebec (2017), and Ontario (2018); while extreme wildfires ravaged parts of Alberta (the Fort McMurray fire in 2016) and the interior of BC in 2017 and 2018. Man-made catastrophes were all too common as well, with the tailings pond berm failure at Mount Polley, BC in 2014 and the Obed Coal Mine spill in Hinton Alberta in 2013. Internationally, the Deep Water Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010; and the ongoing water quality crisis in Flint Michigan also captivated our attention.
    Looking forward, I am reminded of the irreverent Australian comic and TV host Jim Jeffries who says "I think we can all do better". Who knows what the 2020's will bring, but that's a topic for my next blog.
    By Bill Leedham, P. Geo., CESA