Canada to cut back on environmental reviews

Tue Apr 17, 2012 5:43pm EDT
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By Euan Rocha and David Ljunggren

TORONTO/OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada said on Tuesday it would streamline the way it performs environmental reviews on major industrial projects in a bid to speed the development of mines and pipelines, a move critics predicted could cause an environmental disaster.

And in a policy change that could benefit the oil and gas industry, the Conservative government said it will strip key veto powers from the federal energy regulator and give itself the final say on approving major pipelines.

The right-of-center Conservatives say the current regulatory system is too complex and lengthy and could threaten up to C$500 billion ($505 billion) of new investments in energy and mining industries over the next decade.

"We have to compete with other resource-rich countries for fast-growing markets and scarce capital. And we must do it now," Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said in a speech unveiling the new rules.

The federal government now will focus only on major reviews, handing over responsibility for some projects to Canada's 10 provinces, while ensuring each proposed development is assessed only once.

Ottawa will also impose legally binding timetables on reviews, which in the past have taken up to seven years to complete. Once the new rules are adopted, an assessment will be limited to a maximum of two years.

"We have immense resources, we are an energy superpower, we're a mining giant, and this can have an incredibly positive impact on the future prosperity and security of Canadians," Oliver told reporters after the speech.

The Conservatives are particularly keen to speed development of the oil-rich tar sands of northern Alberta, which represent the world's third largest oil reserves, and to build pipelines to take the Alberta crude to ports on the Pacific Coast. Environmentalists strongly oppose that idea.   Continued...

A sign reading "Jobs, Growth, and Prosperity" is seen as Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver speaks at a news conference at the Automatic Coating Limited plant in Toronto, April 17, 2012. Despite the introduction of new rules to speed the approval of mines and pipelines in Canada, existing environmental reviews of major projects will carry on, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver told reporters on Tuesday. REUTERS/Mark Blinch