New Canada reviews to apply to existing projects

Fri Mar 30, 2012 5:28pm EDT
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By David Ljunggren and Jeffrey Jones

OTTAWA/CALGARY (Reuters) - Streamlined rules for approving mines and pipelines in Canada will apply to existing environmental reviews and could have an impact on Enbridge Inc's proposed Northern Gateway oil pipeline, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver told Reuters on Friday.

Canada's Conservative government on Thursday said it would soon unveil measures to speed up the process of environmental assessments for projects, including setting firm timetables for formal hearings.

The Northern Gateway is a contentious project and so many people have asked to comment that the public hearing - which started in January - is now scheduled to wrap up towards the end of 2013, a full year later than initially planned.

Asked whether the new rules could affect the Northern Gateway, Oliver replied: "Yes, it could, because the whole point of having the proposed legislation dealing with reviews that are currently going on is that we want to make sure that those reviews, like the new ones, will be done in a timely fashion."

Green activists say Ottawa is trying to push through projects as quickly as possible, and say the consequences could be an environmental disaster.

The Conservatives, keen to boost development of northern Alberta's oil-rich tar sands, say the current system of assessing projects for their impact on the environment is far too complex and lengthy and therefore needs to be simplified.

Oliver said the new rules would contain transitional measures to ensure they applied to existing reviews.

"Because they are in different stages they are not all going to be treated the same," he said. "They can't be treated the same, they shouldn't be treated the same. They have to be treated according to where they are in the process given what we want to achieve."   Continued...