Environmental Approvals & Certificates of Approval
In Ontario, facilities must get approval from the Ministry of the Environment (MOE) if they release pollution to the environment (air, land, water), provide drinking water supplies, or store, transport or dispose of waste to ensure that the environment and human health will not be adversely affected. These are sometimes referred to by communities as ‘permits to pollute’.
Until 2011, facilities received a Certificate of Approval (CofA), but under the new system facilities will receive either an Environmental Compliance Approval (ECA) or register their activities through the Environmental Activity and Sector Registry (EASR) depending on their sector. Read more about the approvals system.
An ECA or CofA is a legal document that explicitly permits and controls the manner in which polluting activities are carried out. They are binding and directly enforceable by prosecution under provincial legislation. The MOE is required to supply valid Approval documents to the public upon request. These permits do expire and must be re-applied for. Permits can also be amended upon request if a business decides to make changes to the facility, their processes, etc.
How do I access CofAs or ECAs?
To find an Approval document for a facility, use the MOE’s online search engine called Access Environment. You can search by address, facility name, Approval number, industry and many other options.
Some older approvals are not listed in the online database. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, or can only find an amendment to an earlier Approval, you’ll have to request a copy from the MOE. A phone call to your local MOE office may help.
To receive an ECA or CofA, facilities must provide supporting documentation, and this information may also contain important information, such as expected activities, technologies used etc. You may need to file a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to access this supporting documentation.
Seeing the Approval documents can help the community find out what polluting processes a facility is licensed for, what pollutants are released into the environment, and what types of pollution monitoring, controls and reporting are required.
If there is an amendment or change to an earlier CofA, an explanation of the reason for the change may be included.
The public can also comment on applications for a new ECA, or a revision to an existing Approval at the Environmental Registry. The comment period is also an opportunity for the community to request the inclusion of special conditions to the approval.
In the Atlantic Packaging GNC in Toronto, residents in the area learned about the company’s application to expand operations in the community because there was a postings on the Environmental Registry from the company requesting an amendment of their Approval. The request was to increase production at the facility, beyond the limit set out in their Approval. This gave the community an opportunity to talk with the local MOE officer to express concerns that existing odour and noise problems should be solved before the company was permitted to expand.
Residents and organizations have used CofA’s many times to evaluate whether a company is in non-compliance with the pollution control conditions and to notify the proper enforcement branch.
Residents may become aware of permitted pollution activities and call for changes at the facility to reduce emissions or eliminate them, even though the facility is officially in compliance with the regulations.
What information do ECA’s and CofA’s leave out?
Many Approvals are out of date and a large facility may have 100s of CofA’s for individual activities. A CofA or ECA does not record whether there have been infractions or non-compliance issues with regards to the regulated activity.
The CofA’s are often written in technical language and do not have comprehensive information specifying the exact amounts or type of pollution approved. This information is provided in an Emission Summary and Disperson Modelling (ESDM) report that is a supplement to the Approval document. This report shows how much the facility will release compared to Ontario’s air quality standards (Ontario Regulation 419/05). In some cases businesses are required to provide this information to any member of the public who inquires in person, which is becoming more common place. You can find out if a company is required to provide this information by checking the ‘Documentation Requirements’ section of the Approval. In cases where this requirement is not present, the ESDM report can be acquired through a Freedom of Information request.
- Environmental Registry
- Freedom of Information request
- Air Pollution – Local Air Quality (Ontario Regulation 419/05)