Canada makes good on promise to streamline mining, oil and gas projects

The Canadian government followed through on last month's budget promise to streamline environmental reviews of resource projects with a plan for "responsible resource development."

Announced Tuesday by Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver at a factory in Toronto, the plan features a "one project one review" system of reviewing major projects- a reference to costly duplications of environmental reviews cited by resource companies as unecessarily slowing and impeding development of mining and oil and gas projects. Environmental groups, on the other hand, view the change as fast-tracking projects and gutting environmental safeguards for projects that could prove risky to the environment.

Oliver defended the plan as a way to create jobs and to avoid stalling economic growth by putting investment at risk:

"With scarce resources, it is counter-productive to have the federal and provincial governments completing separate reviews of the same project," Oliver said in Toronto. "We need to tap into the tremendous appetite for resources in the world’s dynamic emerging economies — resources we have in abundance."

The new system will recognize provincial processes as equivalent to federal ones as long as they adhere to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. It also sets deadlines for hearings and assessments: 24 months for panel reviews, 18 months for National Energy Board hearings and 12 months for standard environmental assessments.

More controversially, the program reduces the number of groups that can do reviews from over 40 to three- leaving only the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, the National Energy Board and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.

CBC News reported environmental groups and opposition parties saying the plan gives big energy companies carte blanche by dismantling the checks and balances that protect the environment:

"After slashing funding to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, they’re now saddling it with the obligation to do more complex reviews, faster, with fewer resources," NDP environment critic Megan Leslie said Tuesday.

"You're going to have less time, less resources from the federal government to actually look at and understand these projects and less opportunity for the public to point out errors and omissions in submissions by proponents," John Bennett, executive director of Sierra Club Canada, told

The plan was lauded by the Association for Mineral Exploration British Columbia (AME BC):

“Today’s announcement is a welcome signal from the federal government that it is committed to move toward a one-project, one-review process that should create more certainty for companies, investors, stakeholders and Aboriginal communities,” said Gavin C. Dirom, President & CEO of AME BC.

Read the full news release below:

TORONTO – The Harper Government today announced, as part of Economic Action Plan 2012, its plan for Responsible Resource Development, which will streamline the review process for major economic projects. The plan was announced by the Honourable Joe Oliver, Minister of Natural Resources, at Automatic Coating Limited in Toronto, which produces high-performance liquids and powder coating used on oil and gas pipelines in Canada and other countries.

“The Harper Government’s plan for Responsible Resource Development will create good, skilled, well-paying jobs in cities and communities across Canada, while maintaining the highest possible standards for protecting the environment,” said Minister Oliver. “It 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.”

In 2010, the natural resource sectors employed more than 760,000 workers in communities throughout the country. The mining and energy sectors alone represent 10 percent of the Canadian economy and 40 percent of our exports. The potential for job creation and economic growth is enormous. In the next 10 years, more than 500 projects representing over $500 billion in new investments are proposed across Canada.

The Government’s plan for Responsible Resource Development has received a broad range of strong support across the country from Canadian business and labour leaders, including as the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada, and Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters.

Yves Thomas Dorval, President of the Conseil du patronat du Québec (CPQ), is on record saying, “An important aspect of this budget […] is the simplification of the review process for large-scale natural resource projects. While still ensuring that the environment is protected, this review will now have a clearly defined timeline. The Employers' Council believes that this is a winning formula for Quebec in situations where these reviews are necessary.” (News Release, March 29, 2012)

Robert Blakely, Director of Canadian Affairs for the Canadian Building Trades is also on record as supporting this major Government initiative, saying “the skilled tradespeople who go to work every day on large energy projects ought to benefit from the streamlining of the regulatory process. When we are workforce planning and training apprentices, having this kind of roadmap is invaluable. We support a system that is fair and rigorous for the environment — we also support a system that makes economic sense for workers and industry.” (News Release, March 29, 2012)

“The Harper Government is focused on jobs, growth and long-term prosperity,” said Minister Oliver. “The emerging economies in Asia and around the world provide the potential to create even more jobs and growth, now and for the next generation.”

The Harper Government will create jobs, growth, and long-term prosperity through Responsible Resource Development by:

  • Moving toward a “one project, one review” system for reviews of major projects by recognizing provincial processes as substitutes or equivalents to federal ones as long as they meet the requirements under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act;
  • Ensuring decisions by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency on whether a federal environmental assessment is required are made earlier in the process (within 45 days);
  • Setting timelines for hearings and assessments, namely, 24 months for panel reviews, 18 months for National Energy Board hearings and 12 months for standard environmental assessments;
  • Setting legally binding timelines for key regulatory permitting processes, including 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;
  • Consolidating the number of organizations responsible for reviews from more than 40 to three: The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, the National Energy Board and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission;
  • Focusing federal assessment efforts on major projects that can have significant environmental effects;
  • For the first time, introducing enforceable environmental assessment decision statements under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. This means proponents of major projects will have to comply with conditions set out in the decision statements or may face tough financial penalties. The proposed penalties could range from $100,000 to $400,000;
  • Requiring follow-up programs after all environmental assessments to verify the accuracy of the predictions regarding potential environmental effects and to determine if mitigation measures are working as intended;
  • For the first time, providing federal inspectors with the authority to examine whether or not conditions of a decision statement are met;
  • For the first time, authorizing the use of administrative monetary penalties for violations of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, the Nuclear Safety and Control Act and the National Energy Board Act. These penalties will be designed to address small contraventions quickly so that larger issues do not arise in the future. Further details on the penalties will be available once legislation is introduced;
  • The proposed penalties could range from $25,000 to a maximum of $100,000 for violations of the Nuclear Safety and Control Act, and the National Energy Board Act, while the range of penalties under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act will be established through regulations;
  • Providing more than $35 million over two years for marine safety and $13.5 million over two years to strengthen pipeline safety, including regulations to strengthen the tanker safety regime and increasing the number of oil and gas pipeline inspections each year by 50 percent, from 100 to 150 inspections.

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