Government to slim environmental tests for big projects

Tue Mar 27, 2012 12:24pm EDT
 
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - In a move set to help the oil industry, Canada's Conservative government will unveil new rules this week designed to cut the time it takes for environmental assessments of major energy and industrial projects.

The government says the current complex system of regulations means it can take far too long to approve pipelines and mines, thereby putting at risk up to C$500 billion ($505 billion) in new investment over the next 10 years.

Beneficiaries could well be Enbridge Inc and Kinder Morgan Energy Partners, which are both seeking to build pipelines from the oil-rich tar sands of northern Alberta to the Pacific Coast, where tankers would take crude to booming Asian markets.

Critics charge the government's approach will relax standards and could help trigger an environmental calamity.

The federal government's budget this Thursday will outline moves to simplify what Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver calls "a needlessly complex, duplicative regulatory system".

Ottawa shares responsibility for regulation with the country's 10 provinces, which means some major projects are examined twice. Often lengthy public hearings into proposed mines and pipelines can drag out the approval process for years.

"The system should not take years and years to review a project. It's possible to make regulatory decisions in a reasonable amount of time without compromising the rigor or the standards of the process," Oliver said on Tuesday.

"Our ultimate goal is simple but not necessarily easy to achieve: one project, one review, in a clearly defined time frame," he told the House of Commons natural resources committee.   Continued...