Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Ottawa plans to reduce environmental oversight

Assessments consolidated

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OTTAWA -- The Conservative government will significantly reduce federal environmental oversight of natural resource developments and other projects by consolidating assessments into three departments, eliminating reviews for small projects and handing more regulatory responsibility to the provinces.

Industry groups lauded the changes announced Tuesday as critical to attracting investment and creating jobs, while environmental watchdogs and opposition parties attacked the plan as an example of the federal government abandoning its responsibility for protecting Canada's land, air and water.

The Harper government's blueprint for "responsible resource development," announced by Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, will concentrate the federal government's environmental assessments on major economic projects and impose fixed timelines of up to 24 months for reviews of major oil and gas and mining proposals.

The measures, which will be included in new and amended federal legislation to be introduced shortly, also may limit participation in regulatory hearings to people "directly affected" by projects, although details are still to come.

Changes announced Tuesday will apply retroactively to the Northern Gateway pipeline assessment and possibly truncate the review period for the project. The $5.5-billion, 1,172-kilometre pipeline would ship oilsands crude from Alberta to port in Kitimat, B.C. Public hearings began early this year and were expected to last until mid-2013.

The federal government says the changes are necessary to move to a "one-project, one-review" process that reduces duplication, improves predictability and timeliness for investors, concentrates federal efforts on major projects and improves consultations with aboriginal groups.

"We need a process that ensures timely, efficient and effective project reviews, promotes business confidence and capital investment, while strengthening our world-class environmental standards," Oliver said Tuesday while announcing the changes at a Toronto business that provides products for oil and gas pipelines.

Under the plan, provincial environmental processes will be substituted for or considered equivalent to federal reviews as long as they meet the standards set out in the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.

The provincial rules also will be considered equivalent to federal Fisheries Act regulations as long as they meet or exceed Canadian standards, while the provinces, National Energy Board and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission will be authorized to grant approvals under the federal Fisheries Act.

The government will consolidate federal environmental reviews into three organizations: the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, the National Energy Board and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. Currently, more than 40 federal government departments and agencies have responsibility for project reviews.

Joint review panels no longer will be required for projects regulated by the NEB and CNSC, although the Northern Gateway panel will continue.

-- Postmedia News

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 18, 2012 A7

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