Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Canadian Government Streamlines Environmental Review Process

Canada's Natural Resources Minister, John Oliver, announced Tuesday that the Canadian government would streamline its environmental review process.  The plan, he says, cuts duplication of effort, permitting some projects to be approved by provinces.  Larger projects would still require federal approval.  The plan, dubbed "Responsible Resource Development", would limit the review process to a maximum of two years.

The plan includes:

  • A requirement to determine whether a federal environmental review is necessary within 45 days
  • Limiting panel reviews, if necessary, to no more than two years
  • The consolidation of environmental review agencies from 40 to just three: the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, the National Energy Board and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission
  • Recognizing provincial reviews conducted in accord with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act as equivalent substitutes for federal ones 
The plan has its opponents, mostly environmental groups and is supported by the Western provinces, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia as well as the oil industry.

The government insists that the streamlining of environmental reviews won't be done at the expense of the environment or thorough scientific and safety evaluations. It contends that it will merely cut out duplication and prevent those attempting to hijack the process, what it calls "radical foreign environmental groups", by limiting the review to direct stake holders.

"We don't need a representative of Cesar Chavez's oil company to come to Canada to tell us not to go ahead with a competing energy project.  The reforms will help prevent the long delays in reviewing major economic projects that kill potential jobs and stall economic growth by putting valuable investment at risk."

Environmentalists, the official opposition and the Sierra Club, including David Suzuki,on the other side of the issue, condemned the plan, asserting that it was meant to silence critics.

"This is a way to try to silence the voice of dissent in Canada," said John Bennett, executive director of Sierra Club Canada.

The opposition also condemned the plan calling it a form of censorship.

It's more about censorship than containing the number of people who are coming," said David McGuinty, Liberal Energy Critic.

Regardless of which side of the issue you find yourself on, it is clear that that the process needed reform.  As an example Enbridge's submission of the Northern Gateway pipeline, an application submitted in May 2010, did not enter the review process until the beginning of 2012, when hearings began, delaying the go-ahead to at least 2013. 

Some proponents of the process wonder if environmental groups would be happy if the environmental review process took this long for windmill or solar panel farms. 

Oliver also announced that the government is boosting its environmental protection efforts with a commitment to spend $35 million over two years on marine safety, as well as another $13.5 million on oil tanker and pipeline safety.

The majority of British Columbians are opposed to oil tanker traffic on the West coast.  The Northern Gateway pipeline from Albeta to Kitimat, B.C,  would create an oil tanker terminal on the B.C. coast.

This is not the end of the issue and will certainly be the subject of intense discussion in the House of Commons.  To say the least environmental politics are interesting, emotional and explosive.

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