Government of New Brunswick

New Brunswick's Clean Air Act aims to protect and improve the quality of the air we breathe, and to encourage the wise use of resources across the province.

One of the main tasks of the Clean Air Act is to control the type and amount of contaminants that are released into the atmosphere, through a system of Air Quality Approvals.

This legislation places responsibility for air pollution's harmful effects onto the person who releases contaminants. It creates new opportunities for the public to take part when air quality decisions are made. And it enables the Minister to act swiftly against polluters where human health or the environment may be at risk.

The Clean Air Act applies to all businesses, industries, and individuals in New Brunswick, to federal and provincial governments, and to Crown corporations.

 

Principles and Objectives

The Clean Air Act lists a number of principles that must be considered in applying the Act and its Regulations, for example during the issuance of an Approval. These are broad statements of belief in such ideas as:

  • the need to protect the environment for the health of future generations;
  • the importance of controlling air pollution, to protect both human health and the ecosystem; and
  • the responsibility of Government to consult the public on issues related to health and the environment.

The Act also calls for specific air quality objectives which will guide the Department of Environment in its application of the legislation. These are drawn up by the Minister of Environment, who consults the Minister of Health and Wellness as well as citizens and community groups. The Minister must report to the Legislature annually on the success in meeting these objectives.

 

The Approvals System

Under the Clean Air Act, a "contaminant" is anything that is foreign to the environment. This may include a natural substance that is present in unnaturally large amounts. In addition to the substances presently defined as contaminants in the Act, the Minister may also designate certain substances as contaminants for the purpose of the Act.

No one in New Brunswick can release a contaminant into the air without an Air Quality Approval.

With or without an Approval, however, no one can release a contaminant if it may damage property, interfere with the normal conduct of business, or cause substantial loss of the normal enjoyment of the use of any property.

The Air Quality Regulation spells out the process by which Approvals are issued. The Minister of Environment will normally attach specific operating conditions to an Approval by defining the conditions under which contaminants can be released, and the amount of those contaminants that can enter the atmosphere. The Act also allows the Minister to set emission standards for specific industries, for parts of the province, or for province-wide application. When the terms of an Approval are not followed, the Minister of Environment may suspend or revoke it.

The Public Participation Regulation calls for a formal public review process to take place whenever a large source of air pollution - a "Class 1 facility" - applies for an Approval. This is also the case when a Class 1 facility applies to renew an existing Approval or to amend an existing Approval. Such consultation must take place before final decisions on these Approvals are made.

 

Public Participation & the Public Register

Under the Clean Air Act, the Minister is obligated to notify, or to require an applicant to notify the public of applications for the issuance of Class 1 Approvals, the upcoming expiry of Class 1 Approvals, and of significant amendments to existing Class 1 Approvals.

For New Brunswickers to take an active part in discussions of air quality issues, up-to-date information is essential. To this end, the Department is required by law to keep a Public Register. The information contained in the Register is available from any office of the Department of Environment and may be available via the internet.

This Register must contain:

  • applications for registrations, permits and approvals;
  • approvals and conditions relating to them;
  • administrative penalties paid and convictions under the Act;
  • orders made by the Minister; and
  • any agreements the government has authorized the Minister to enter into.

 

Inspections & Investigations

The Clean Air Act allows environmental inspectors to go into any area where a release of contaminants could negatively impact air quality. They can conduct tests to check whether a facility is operating within the law.

They can take samples and examine any equipment, processes, or records in order to gauge the impact that the release of a contaminant is having on the environment. Where an offence is suspected, the inspector may retain whatever items are needed as evidence.

Inspectors must be given any help or information they need to complete their inspection. It is against the law to make false statements to an inspector, or in any other way to obstruct an inspector in his/her duties.


Application for an Investigation

The Department of Environment routinely investigates all complaints of suspected violations of the Act. The response will vary, according to the complaint. It can range from a simple site visit to a formal investigation.

The Act gives members of the public the right to ask the Minister to conduct a formal investigation and to report on its outcome.

An application may be made by any two residents of New Brunswick, aged 18 years or older. The application must be in the form of a statutory declaration, meaning that statements about the nature of the offence and the evidence supporting the allegations must be sworn before a Commissioner of Oaths.

Once an application is received, the Minister must carry out a formal investigation and report the results in writing.


Informant Protection

Anyone who wants to report a suspected offence under the Clean Air Act can ask that his/her identity be kept secret. The Department of Environment will take steps to prevent the release of any information that might reveal that person's identity.

The Minister's Powers

The Clean Air Act gives the Minister of Environment broad powers to act in cases where human health or the environment may be at risk.

The Minister can enter an area and take steps to prevent or control the release of a contaminant, when this action is in the best interests of the public. This may arise in cases where the person who caused a release has not dealt with it, for example, or where the offender cannot be identified. The Minister can also have a site cleaned up or other action taken that is needed to protect the environment. Such work is carried out at the expense of the person responsible for the release.

The Minister may also give warnings, and may issue orders. Such an order might require a facility to control, reduce or eliminate the release of contaminants, for example, and/or to install or replace certain equipment.

Finally, legal proceedings may be undertaken against anyone who violates the Act, the Regulation, or orders issued under them.

The authority for legislation rests with the Minister of Environment and anyone designated to act on the Minister's behalf, such as departmental staff.

 

Offences and Penalties

For minor offences, the Act allows the Department to assess a penalty through an administrative process instead of the courts. The Administrative Penalties Regulation sets up this process. The amount of an administrative penalty may vary from $200 to $5000, and a person can only pay such a penalty three times for a similar offence, after which other enforcement action will be taken.

More serious violations are still prosecuted in the court system.

If convicted of an offence under the Clean Air Act, an individual can be fined between $500 and $50,000 per day. For corporations, or anyone other than an individual, the penalty can range from $1000 to $1million. If the offender made money by violating the Act, the fine may be higher so that no financial advantage is gained.

 

Regulations under the Clean Air Act

Air Quality
The Air Quality Regulation sets the process by which Air Quality Approvals are issued to industry.

Ozone Depleting Substances
The Ozone Depleting Substances Regulation controls the use and handling of chemicals harmful to the earth's ozone layer.

Administrative Penalties
The Administrative Penalties Regulation is a new system of fines for minor offences, administered directly by the Department of Environment.

Appeals
The Appeal Regulation sets the process by which industry may ask the Minister to reverse a decision made under the Clean Air Act.

Public Participation
The Public Participation Regulation requires the Government to seek public input on Air Quality Approvals for major sources of contaminants.

 

Air Resource Management Areas

The Clean Air Act allows the Minister to establish Air Resource Management Areas (ARMAs) in order to encourage a regional approach to the management of air quality issues. In addition, the Minister may appoint persons to intergovernmental committees, Air Resource Management Committees or other advisory committees.