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WHAT IS ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT (EA)?

From Section 2 of Toolkit

Environmental assessment (EA) is a process to assess and predict the impacts or footprint of a proposed project or activity on the natural environment and human society before the project can be carried out. 

The purpose of the EA is to avoid or minimize adverse environmental effects before they occur, and include social and environmental factors into the decision-making process. 

The EA process examines both the direct and indirect social and environmental impacts of a proposed project. When a proposed project has the potential to impact First Nations people directly or indirectly, cultural impacts must also be considered in the EA. 

One way to guard against cultural impacts is to ensure that a traditional knowledge (TK) study is part of the EA process. Traditional knowledge is generally referred to as the long-standing traditions, connection to the land, and practices of your people and community. 

The following are examples of some of the common impacts (direct or indirect) examined in a typical EA: 

Environmental factors: 

  • terrestrial (land) ecosystem;
  • marine (ocean) ecosystem;
  • aquatic (freshwater) ecosystem;
  • air quality;
  • animals (numbers, distribution, movements, behavior); and
  • habitat (soil, landforms, water quality, vegetation quality and quantity).

Health and socio-economic factors: 

  • population change;
  • quality of life indicators;
  • community social structure and stability;
  • individual and community health risks;
  • infrastructure requirements;
  • employment and business opportunities; and
  • social adjustment programs.

Cultural factors: 

  • impacts to traditional land use practices;
  • impacts to lifestyles, language, and customs;
  • impacts to Treaty and Aboriginal rights; and
  • impacts to traditional knowledge.

In most environmental assessments the term ‘environment’ is used in a broad sense to include the natural environment and human society. 

The EA process is designed to answer questions such as: 

  • Is the proposed project site the best option for the project that has been identified by the proponent?
  • Is there a risk that the proposed project will have an adverse effect on the environment or nearby communities?

If so, how much uncertainty is attached to this risk? 

  • Have the potential impacts been avoided or mitigated (made less serious) as much as possible?
  • Are the potential impacts significant, even with mitigation?
  • Are the predicted (forecasted) effects or risks so high that the project should not proceed?
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