Liberals vow greater Indigenous input, tougher environmental hurdles for resource projects

Liberals vow greater Indigenous input, tougher environmental hurdles for resource projects

SHAWN MCCARTHY

OTTAWA — The Globe and Mail

Published Thursday, Jun. 29, 2017 4:36PM EDT

Last updated Thursday, Jun. 29, 2017 4:48PM EDT

 

The Liberal government is proposing new rules that would require resource companies to consult with Ottawa and indigenous communities on major projects well before the firms finalize their plans and apply for regulatory approval.

The companies would also be expected to provide greater opportunity for partnership with aboriginal Canadians, and seek indigenous peoples’ consent over whether developments that impact their traditional territory should proceed, though they would not have a veto.

The Liberals released a discussion paper Thursday that proposes sweeping changes to the federal regulatory review process for major projects, undoing many of the controversial changes put in place by the Conservatives just five years ago. The government plans to introduce legislation by the end of the year.

Its proposals call for additional environmental protection and increase public and indigenous involvement in decision-making in the review period, while insisting the new regime will “ensure good projects go ahead and resources get to market.”

The former Conservative government overhauled the assessment process in 2012, with the aim of accelerating decision-making; limiting the environmental considerations that would be taken into account, and preventing project opponents from bogging down hearings.

Echoing concerns of environmentalists and First Nations, the Liberals argued the Conservative tilted the process in favor of pipelines and other resource projects. In its discussion paper, the government says the current process is not transparent and lacks scientific rigor; fails to protect waterways and fisheries, and does not allow for sufficient participation by the public and indigenous Canadians.

Despite those shortcomings, the Liberals decided when they took power in late 2015 to review pipeline projects already in the queue under the existing process, saying it would be unfair to make the companies wait for the reforms. Instead, the government adopted “interim measures” that included increased consultations and an assessment of the greenhouse-gas-emission impacts of pipeline expansion.

The oil industry’s proposed pipeline expansions have drawn the most opposition, and have prompted an often-heated national debate over the risks and benefits of resource development, pitting Alberta and its oil industry against vocal opponents in British Columbia and Quebec.

However, the proposed reforms – which are to some degree driven by that debate – would not impact the major oil pipelines. Ottawa approved two projects last November – including the hugely controversial expansion of the Trans Mountain line to Vancouver – and is currently reviewing TransCanada Corp.’s Energy East project.

Industry officials reacted cautiously to the proposals on Thursday, saying they needed to to review the discussion paper to understand the full impact. The government proposes to keep the National Energy Board (NEB) as a regulator of ongoing operations, and maintain its office in Calgary, but the board would have a diminished role in the environmental assessment process.

The government proposes to create a single review agency that would replace the NEB in assessing pipeline and major energy projects, but the agency would work with the NEB to benefit from its technical expertise.

It aims to eliminate federal-provincial overlap by promoting a “one project, one assessment” approach, and would have legislated timelines for reviews, though ministers could approve exceptions.

The Canadian Energy Pipeline Association (CEPA) – which represents companies like TransCanada Corp – had proposed a two-step approval process, with an initial finding on whether a project was in the national interest and a more technical environmental assessment.

The Liberals’ discussion paper rejects that approach, but CEPA president Chris Bloomer said there are elements in the plan that could ensure the political debates and decision are made outside the environmental assessment process. “There’s a lot in the discussion paper that requires further definition,” Mr. Bloomer said. “We think we can work with it but this is not the end of the process.”

Mining projects are reviewed under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, which will also be up-dated. Canadian Mining Association president Pierre Gratton said he was pleased to see Ottawa rejected recommendations made this spring by a government-appointed advisory panel that industry feared would have greatly bogged down the review process.

However, one environmental lawyer said government’s proposals “fall far short” of establishing a process that would ensure sustainable development for the benefit of the communities. The measures “would not give Canada a leading-edge, world-class environmental review process,” Anna Johnston, staff lawyer at West Coast Environmental Law, said. “It would still let short-term economic benefit that go to a few trump environmental harm.”

 

 

 

About prosperitysaskatchewan

Consultant on Saskatchewan's natural resources.

Posted on June 29, 2017, in diamonds, economic impact, miscellaneous, oil, political, potash, uranium and nuclear. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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