What is a "significant" adverse environmental effect? Is it determined by scientists? Governments? Proponents? If determined by thresholds, how do we decide those thresholds?
Environmental impact assessments raise many difficult questions. We can debate all we want about how to assess projects, but one value must inform our decisions: consistency.
I envision a world where all public servants and government officials strictly adhere to the thresholds in environmental legislation. If a proposed project surpasses a threshold, regulatory approval should only be granted in the rarest cases. Currently, nearly every project that undergoes an environmental assessment receives regulatory approval, even if it surpasses thresholds. If regulators enforce existing thresholds, companies will adhere to the new regulations if they are enforced consistently.
My proposed intervention is legislation that caps the number of federally approved projects annually. The biggest barrier to my vision is conflict of interest. Governments depend on projects to generate short-term economic growth and win re-election. However, if governments were limited in their ability to approve projects, there would be more public scrutiny on the approval process for each individual project, incentivizing governments to approve projects below existing thresholds.