JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – Canada on Tuesday unveiled a plan to streamline the review process for significant economic projects, such as pipelines and mines, in a bid to compete with other resource-rich countries.
Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said demand from emerging economies in Asia and around the world provided the potential to create even more jobs and growth in Canada.
He cited Canadian natural resource sectors having employed more than 760 000 workers in communities throughout the country in 2010, with the mining and energy sectors alone representing 10% of the Canadian economy and 40% of its exports.
The plan called for a move toward a “one project, one review” system for reviews of significant projects by recognising provincial processes as substitutes or equivalents to federal ones, as long as they meet the requirements under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.
Oliver said the number of organisations responsible for these reviews would be consolidated from more than 40, to only three, comprising the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA), the National Energy Board (NEB) and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.
Oliver said government’s ‘Responsible Resource Development’ plan would create good, skilled, well-paying jobs in cities and communities across Canada.
“The potential for job creation and economic growth is enormous. In the next ten years, more than 500 projects representing over $500-billion in new investments are proposed across Canada,” he said.
While the review process would be accelerated, Oliver stressed that the highest-possible standards for protecting the environment would still be maintained.
The plan received broad, strong support from Canadian business and labour leaders, including the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC), Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, Conseil du patronat du Québec and the Canadian Building Trades.
PDAC executive director Ross Gallinger said the association supported a system that provided predictable and timely reviews, reduced duplication, strengthened environmental protection and enhanced Aboriginal consultation.
“The mineral exploration and development industry needs an efficient regulatory regime that encourages investment by providing certainty and predictability for resource development projects,” he stated.
But while industry groups supported Oliver’s announcement, Ottawa’s resource development plan did not gain the same support from environmentalists.
Environmental activist The Pembina Institute policy director Simon Dyer believed Canadians would get weaker, less-informed decision-making, sloppy environmental protection by resource developers, and an increased likelihood of environmental impacts.
Independent observers like the Royal Society of Canada have stated that Canada needs to strengthen its environmental assessment procedures in the oil sands sector, but that the federal government’s plan takes Canada in the opposite direction.
“At a time when the level of proposed resource development – particularly in the oil sands – is increasing, the federal government needs to enhance its oversight of these projects. The government may say it is committed to more efficient and effective decision-making, but its plans to cut the budget of the agency charged with making those decisions by 40% undermines the government’s ability to deliver on that commitment,” Dyer said in a statement.
“These changes make it clear that powerful oil interests are running the show with the federal government bending over backwards to do their bidding,” Environmental Defence’s Gillian McEachern said in Ottawa.
She added that Tuesday’s announcement “weakened that key environmental protection measure at the same time as offices that deal with oil spills are being closed across the country”.
McEachern pointed to energy provider Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway tar sands pipeline that would cross 800 streams and rivers, many important salmon habitats, and send supertankers along the pristine British Columbia coast, raising fears of repeat accidents such as the Exxon Valdez in Prince William Sound, Alaska, on March 24, 1989.
However, the plan for the first time also provided for the use of administrative monetary penalties for violations of applicable laws, while providing more than $35-million over two years for marine safety and $13.5-million over two years to strengthen pipeline safety.
This included regulations to strengthen the tanker safety regime and increasing the number of oil and gas pipeline inspections each year by 50%, from 100 to 150 inspections.
Further, the Responsible Resource Development plan would reduce the sometimes-lengthy review process by restricting it to set timelines, to ensure decisions by the CEAA on whether a federal environmental assessment is required are made within 45 days.
The legally binding timelines would include projects for regulatory permitting process assessments under the Fisheries Act, the Species at Risk Act, the Navigable Waters Protection Act, the Canadian Environmental Protection Act and the Nuclear Safety and Control Act.
The timelines for hearings and assessments were pinned to 24 months for panel reviews, 18 months for NEB hearings and 12 months for standard environmental assessments.