Environmental Assessment Changes

Ottawa's new budget will impose time limits on environmental assessments for energy and industrial projects and force reviews to be either federal or provincial but not both. You want to bet that's a point of debate between environmentalists and industry supporters but others wonder if the focus on environmental assessment leaves us ignoring environmental governance.

Part Three of The Current

Environmental Assessment Changes

In early January - on the eve of the National Energy Board hearings into the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline - Prime Minister Stephen Harper wondered if opponents of the pipeline could drag out the approval process.

Much talk about foreign-funded radicals opposed to the national interest soon followed, and cities see last week's federal budget as an attack on environmentalists. As the government veers away from the phrase "sustainable development" toward an emphasis on what it calls responsible resource development, the budget announced changes to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. The government says $500 billion worth of resource investment over the next decade is at stake.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty suggests environmental assessments will be limited to 2 years for review panels. A year and a half for review panels for National Energy Board hearings and one year for so-called regular environmental assessments. The government will also get rid of overlapping federal and provincial environmental assessments, shifting responsibility to the provinces.

Those in the Resource industry applaud the changes. We heard from Pierre Gratton, president and CEO of the Mining Association of Canada with an example of why the changes are necessary. He's talking about what happened to the proposal for the Red Chris Copper Mine in Northwestern British Columbia.

Federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver has also cited the case of the Joslyn oil sands project. In that case, French oil giant Total got approval last year, but the environmental review process lasted six years - much too long in Mr. Oliver's view. But Rick Smith, the executive director of Environmental Defence, argues the prolonged process was for the best.

We wanted to look at what these budget changes to environmental assessments will mean. Stewart Elgie is a professor of environmental law and economics, and the director of Institute of the Environment at the University of Ottawa. He joined us from our Ottawa studio. Brenda Kenny's industry has a lot at stake in the changes to our environmental assessment regime. She's the president and CEO of the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association, and we reached her at her home in Calgary. And Bruce Pardy is a professor of environmental law at Queens University in Kingston. He was in our Toronto studio.

We did request an interview with federal Environment Minister Peter Kent or Michelle Rempel, the parliamentary secretary to the minister of the environment. Neither was available for an interview this week.

This segment was produced by The Current's Chris Wodskou.

Related Links:

Other segments from today's show:

Comments are closed.