Court approval of Imperial Metal's Red Chris gold and copper mine in northern B.C. may have set a precedent for future environmental assessments. ((Imperial Metals))

The B.C. government has a plan to free up billions of dollars in investment money and boost job creation by combining the provincial and federal environmental review processes — but critics are concerned about cutting corners on environmental safety. 

"We cannot afford to hold investment and jobs hostage," the government said Tuesday in the throne speech read by Lt.-Gov. Steven Point.

"Byzantine bureaucratic practices have no place in the 21st century." 

'They're talking about cutting back on environmental protection.' —B.C. NDP Leader Carole James

The term "Byzantine bureaucratic practices" referred to the requirement that major developments pass both federal and provincial environmental assessments — a big issue for the mining industry in particular.

Red Chris Mine sets precedent

Last month, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled the controversial Red Chris Mine in northern B.C. could proceed.

The Supreme Court of Canada unanimously ruled Jan. 21 that the mine can go ahead, even though the court said the project didn't go through all the required environmental assessments.

But dozens of other B.C. mining projects will require a full federal review, as well as provincial certification.

The federal government might be open to the idea of merging its process with B.C.'s, in the opinion of Premier Gordon Campbell.

"We think we can work in partnership with the federal government to bring that in," Campbell said after the throne speech.

"We're glad to be a prototype for them to see how that works, but that would free up about $3 billion worth of investment alone."

It's fine to streamline the process, said Opposition Leader Carole James, but she was concerned about the overall effect.

"When [government spokesmen] talk about deregulation, they're talking about cutting back on environmental protection" James said.