Pipeline projects will face a new environmental assessment process, a move the federal government says will restore the confidence of Canadians in the regulatory regime for major energy projects. 

Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr and Environment Minister Catherine McKenna announced Wednesday that the government is launching an interim review process that will impose more steps on projects such as Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain and TransCanada's Energy East pipelines before they can be built. 

"We believe it is important and, in fact, essential to rebuild Canadians' trust in our environmental assessment processes," McKenna told a news conference Wednesday.

"We need to take into account the views and concerns of Canadians, respect the rights and interests of indigenous peoples and support our natural resources sector."

Moving forward, the environment ministry will analyze greenhouse gas emissions that would result from approving pipeline projects. The results from that study would then be presented to cabinet, which will make the final decision on whether to approve a project.

The process will also include greater public, and indigenous consultations on projects, something that is not currently part of the National Energy Board regulatory regime.

The new process will be separate from the existing NEB, and take place after the regulator has completed its review of proposed projects.

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Carr said the process will provide pipeline proponents greater certainty about the time involved in reaching decisions.

"If we're going to attract the investments we need to sustainably develop our energy resources, then we have to better engage Canadians, conduct deeper consultations with indigenous peoples and base decisions on science, facts and evidence," Carr said.

The minister said that the TransMountain and Energy East pipelines will not start at the beginning of the regulatory process.

The Liberals promised during the last election campaign that it would "modernize" the NEB to restore confidence among Canadians in its review process.

McKenna said that a complete overhaul of the NEB, and the environmental regulatory process as whole, is coming, but said it was still "years" away.

 'Another layer, another process'

The Liberals contend their Conservative predecessors interfered in the independent board's affairs in order to push pipeline projects through faster.

But the Tories pushed back Wednesday telling reporters that the new regulations would kill jobs in the oil and gas sector. 

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"This is not good news for the natural resources sector. This is not good news for jobs that depend on the natural resources sector doing well. This is another layer, another process," the Conservative's natural resources critic Candice Bergen said.

"This looks like the government taking decisions out of the hands of experts and arms length body [the NEB] and really centralizing it in the prime minister's office," she said, adding that pipelines could be the subject of greater political interference.

The government's announcement comes on the heels of a new audit report by Canada's environment watchdog that found the NEB failed to follow through and adequately track the compliance of pipeline companies with the conditions set for their projects.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said the current environmental review process is completely broken after 10 years of Stephen Harper as prime minister.

"We're still in the difficult space of fixing what Harper broke," May said. "It's a bogus, sham process."

The B.C. MP said that the environmental assessment process was "wrecked" when the Harper government handed regulatory review to the NEB, a body that "never" considered climate change or greenhouse gas emissions in its review of projects.

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May added that the NEB has approved 98 per cent of all pipeline projects and largely ignored interveners such as environmental groups and indigenous peoples.

Environment Defence, a national environmental advocacy group, said it was "encouraged" by the new transitional pipeline review process.

"The adoption of a new climate test is significant. Major energy and infrastructure projects must be assessed against Canada's commitment to keep global temperatures below 1.5 degrees," a spokesman for the group said in a statement.

But the group added that it "doesn't make sense" that Energy East would fall under the new interim regime.

"The NEB hasn't yet deemed the Energy East application complete; the review has not begun. If the transitional process is just for projects under review, it shouldn't apply to Energy East," a spokesperson for the group said in a statement.


5 principles of the new interim environmental assessment process:

  1. No project proponent will be asked to return to the starting line — project reviews will continue within the current legislative framework and in accordance with treaty provisions, under the auspices of relevant responsible authorities and Northern regulatory boards; 
  2. Decisions will be based on science, traditional knowledge of Indigenous peoples and other relevant evidence;
  3. The views of the public and affected communities will be sought and considered;
  4. Indigenous peoples will be meaningfully consulted, and where appropriate, impacts on their rights and interests will be accommodated; and
  5. Direct and upstream greenhouse gas emissions linked to the projects under review will be assessed.

Source: Natural Resources Canada 

With files from Max Paris