B.C. Air Quality

Levels of Government Involved

Managing air quality is a partnership between multiple government jurisdictions and stakeholders. This is partly due to the fact that different players have different degrees and kinds of air-quality management powers and roles. Also, air pollution often stretches across more than one political boundary, and has more than one source. Addressing air pollution requires a joint effort by those affected by the pollution and those involved in causing it.

The main governments involved in air quality management are the federal, provincial, regional and municipal governments, along with international joint organizations. They are responsible for making and enforcing laws, issuing permits and codes of practice, and setting standards, objectives, guidelines and criteria. In addition, they work with other government agencies and stakeholders to in airshed management. (See Airshed Management in B.C.).

Federal Legislation

The federal government’s role in addressing air quality issues is largely defined through the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA). Many emission sources that lie beyond provincial authority are subject to federal regulation, standards and guidelines. These include motor vehicles and fuels, marine vessels, railways and off-road engines. The federal government also provides research support and advice to provincial and municipal agencies in the development of strategies and plans.

Provincial Legislation

In general, the provinces are responsible for controlling pollution from industry and business activities. B.C.'s Environmental Management Act and the Waste Discharge Regulation are the principal pieces of legislation for air quality and other environmental issues in British Columbia. Flowing from them are regulations that address specific air-quality issues. The province has the authority to develop air quality standards and guidelines, regulate point and area sources, and require the preparation of airshed management plans  For more information, see the Legislative Framework, Summary of Air Quality Legislation and Air Quality Regulations.

British Columbia is also a member of the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME), composed of Canada's federal, provincial and territorial environment ministers. The CCME has developed Canada-wide standards for particulate matter and ground-level ozone, which are an important step towards the long-term goal of minimizing the risk PM and ozone pose to human health and the environment.

Regional and Municipal Legislation

Regional and municipal governments can pass bylaws to control emissions such as backyard burning, wood stoves and vehicle idling. These governments can also address air pollution through land-use and transportation planning, regional growth strategies and sustainability plans. For more information, see the 2015 British Columbia Air Quality Bylaw Inventory.

Under the Environmental Management Act, the Metro Vancouver (the Greater Vancouver Regional District) has been delegated authority to manage air quality within its boundaries — an important responsibility in B.C., given the size of its population. It administers laws that regulate emissions from industrial, commercial and industrial sources, through permits, compliance promotion and enforcement. A key role is establishing ambient air quality criteria that may be different but no less stringent (or more stringent) than requirements established by the province.

International Actions and Agreements

International actions and agreements include the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, the Kyoto Protocol and the Canada-United States Air Quality Agreement. Closer to home is the Georgia Basin/Puget Sound International Airshed Strategy, a multi-agency, international effort to address shared air quality management concerns.


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