Environmental Law Lesson Plan:
FUNDAMENTALS OF ENVIRONMENTAL LAW
- Understand and appreciate the breadth of environmental law;
- Understand how environmental law issues arise with day to day activities; and
- Gain awareness of environmental issues through a discussion of laws and hypothetical scenarios.
- Understand the basic principles underlying many of Canada’s environmental laws;
- Understand who is responsible for creating and enforcing these laws; and
- Understand the many definitions of environmental law.
- Better analyze an ‘on the ground’ hypothetical situation to identify environmental laws that may be triggered;
- Better able to form and express opinions as to why environmental laws are necessary; and
- Better able to develop persuasive legal arguments and orally advocate an opinion or point of view.
- Become more inspired to think about the environmental consequences of various land use actions; and
- Understand that law is created through many ways including advocacy and civil debate.
An Introduction to Environmental Law
- To begin the session, show students a series of pictures including a sage grouse, a tailings pond, a mountain lake, and a hazardous waste facility. Ask the students what the pictures have in common and explain that each picture represents something that has been the subject of environmental legal debates in Alberta. Explain that this will be an overview of some topics from the Alberta Environmental Laws 101 website.
- Another example of an introduction is to ask the class to come up with examples of environmental disasters in their lifetime. Examples can include the Calgary Flood in 2013 (https://www.calgary.ca/UEP/Water/Pages/Flood-Info/Flooding-History-Calgary.aspx) or the Fort McMurray Wildfire in 2016. From there, ask students about ways that the law may be able to help prevent a future national disaster of this magnitude – examples could include forest management, wetland management, climate change mitigation, and adaptation – among others.
- Begin with the following questions to generate discussion and highlight any background knowledge. Write student responses on the board.
a. What does the term ‘environmental law’ mean to you?
- After getting some student responses, explain that there is no single definition for environmental law. Use some of the definitions included on the page What is Environmental Law? under the Fundamentals of Environmental Law section on the website.
- Consider some of the different careers you may have as an ‘environmental lawyer’ from Environmental Non-Governmental Organizations, to industry lawyers working at an oil & gas or forestry company, or government lawyers such as those who work at Alberta Environment and Parks or Alberta Energy.
b. Can you think of some examples of environmental laws?
c. Who regulates all these activities and enforces environmental laws?
d. Where does environmental law come from?
- Go through the sources of environmental law under Fundamentals of Law – international law, the constitution, statutes, regulations, & the common law. Students can also be divided into groups with each group assigned to one of the 5 main sources and can be tasked with providing a background on what role their area plays. You can use the Alberta Environmental Laws 101 website as a resource.
Environmental Law Hypotheticals
- In this section, students will participate in an exercise to help illustrate the many ‘layers’ of environmental laws that are implicated when undertaking a land use action. They will also get the opportunity to apply the laws.
- Divide the class into groups of four. Pass out the ‘Hypothetical New Rec Centre’ handout to each student. See attached. Ask each student to read the hypothetical, looking for the potential environmental issues that might arise and have each group generate a list of issues.
- Walk through the issues and brainstorm as a class what laws might apply. Use the list of laws attached.
- After the class has identified some issues and the law that may apply, divided the students into three groups. Each group represents an interest group. These interest groups include:
- The Community league (trying to build the rec centre)
- Angry Neighbours Against New Rec Centre (community league residents who are against the new building)
- Save Our Snowy Stream (an environmental group who is concerned with the health of the stream and resident animals)
- Have each group identify the issues that are most important to them and which laws may be most helpful to bolster their position. Reconvene and discuss.
Hypothetical New Rec Centre Exercise:
Your community is considering rebuilding your local recreation centre (the “rec centre”). The current building is too small to accommodate the new sports being offered in your community. In addition, the building has serious structural problems that would be very costly to repair. The community has considered expanding the current building or even demolishing and rebuilding on the same lot. After looking into the different options, the community’s preferred alternative is to build an entirely new rec centre at an entirely different location. The community has a found a potential new site and has consulted you (their lawyer) to determine what issues it should be aware of when deciding whether to purchase the property.
The potential site is about two km from the existing building. The site is bordered on two sides by residential neighbourhoods, on one side by light commercial development, and on the fourth side by the Snowy Stream. The site is currently vacant and largely undeveloped. There is, however, an abandoned ‘tank farm’ on the southeast corner of the property bordering commercial development and two condemned houses along the southeast edge of the property. The tank farm consists of several old storage tanks that were once used for a gas station but now sit empty and rusting. The tank farm covers about one half acre of the property and the houses also take up one half acre. The rest of the site is undeveloped. The Snowy Stream is about 5 metres across and is a fish bearing stream. The stream is bordered by trees. Finally, there is a small wetland close to the centre of the property with grizzly bears living there.
The new rec centre
The footprint (or site area) of the new centre would cover one acre. It would likely cover most of the wetland and would require cutting some of the trees along the stream bank. In addition to the actual building, the community plans to build a turf field, four tennis courts, and two parking lots. There will be enough parking for 1,000 cars and there is also on-street parking in the nearby residential areas.
Evaluate the rec centre’s plans and the proposed sites. Identify any legal issues that the community should explore in greater detail.
(see the section on Water Law on the Alberta Environmental Laws 101 website for more information)
- Water Act: The Water Act is Alberta’s water management legislation. “It supports and promotes the conservation and management of water, through the use and allocation of water in Alberta. It requires the establishment of a water management framework and sets out requirements for the preparation of water management plans. The Act addresses: Albertan’s rights to divert water and describes the priority of water rights among users; the types of instruments available for diversion and use of water and the associated processes for decision-making; and the range of enforcement measures available to ensure the goals of the Act are met.” (Government of Alberta – Water Act description) The Water Act also establishes that all water in Alberta is owned by the crown and managed by the province (Section 3).
- Wetlands: The Alberta Wetland Policy manages the use and destruction of wetlands through the assignment of a relative wetland value (evaluates individual wetlands based on five key criteria to determine their value for water quality, groundwater, biodiversity, and human uses); wetland mitigation strategies (this utilizes a mitigation hierarchy which moves from avoiding wetland impacts to minimizing wetland impacts and finally to replacing wetlands through fees or reclamation). There is also some focus on knowledge and information systems; performance measures; monitoring and reporting; and wetland stewardship.
- Fisheries Act: The Fisheries Act is the federal statute responsible for the management of fish habitat. It manages any activities that occur near or affect fish habitat or water where fish live. Under the Fisheries Act the ‘harmful alteration, disruption, or destruction of fish habitat is prohibited without prior authorization’ (Section 35) and no person may pollute water frequented by fish (Section 36). The Fisheries Act also applies to water that is otherwise owned by the Provincial Crown.
- Municipal Government Act: The Municipal Government Act assigns certain powers to municipalities including over zoning and subdivisions. Under the Act, municipalities are charged with providing services and facilities and with maintaining safe and viable communities. For the purposes of this problem, it is important to note that municipalities are responsible for developing a land use bylaw, dividing their respective municipality into land use districts and prescribing permitted and discretionary uses for land, buildings, and development standards. The rules of each land use bylaw will differ by municipality. Bylaws will further set out what is allowed on an individual lot including building type, height, green space etc.
- Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act: This is the primary act in Alberta under which regulatory requirements for air, water, land, and pollution are managed. It sets out certain activities which require an approval or registration before they can be started and regulates pollution.
- Remediation Regulation: This is a regulation under the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act which requires remediation (cleaning up) of a previously contaminated piece of land prior to issuing a remediation certificate. A remediation certificate is required if a landowner wants to avoid liability for the contamination. For the purposes of this problem, the Remediation Regulation will be important if the tank farm has contaminated the land.
As an extra assignment, get the students to research their local zoning and planning bylaws and spend some time looking at how their municipality regulates development.
(see the section on Species Law on the Alberta Environmental Laws 101 website for more information)
- Wildlife Act: The Wildlife Act is Alberta’s hunting and wildlife legislation. This Act regulates hunting; the possession and commerce of wildlife; and prevents a person from wilfully molesting, disturbing or destroying a house, nest, or den of a prescribed wildlife unless authorized (Section 36). In particular for students, the Wildlife Regulation sets limits on the hunting of grizzly bears and the use of their fur etc.; however, hunting is permitted with the proper licence.
- Species at Risk Act: The federal Species at Risk Act is designed to protect species at risk of becoming extinct or extirpated; provide for the recovery of species at risk; and ensure that other species do not become threatened. It provides protections for species; however, protection is limited in part to those species located on federal lands or those species which fall under federal jurisdiction in other ways such as migratory birds and aquatic species. In this case, grizzly bears and certain species of trees are protected under the Species at Risk Act; however, because the land in this problem is located in a municipality the Species at Risk Act may not apply. At this stage, it is also unknown whether the trees on the lot are species at risk (thereby potentially attracting extra protections).