OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's environmental review of existing applications for crude oil pipeline projects is continuing despite the new Liberal government's plans to make the assessment process more robust, Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr said on Wednesday.
"They have not stopped. The process continues," he told reporters on a conference call.
"There will be a transition as we amend the ways in which the National Energy Board goes about the process of evaluating these projects, and we will announce those changes as soon as we can, but the process continues."
The Liberal government's pledge to toughen up the environmental review process for oil pipelines had raised the question of whether existing applications would require resubmission.
Key projects are TransCanada Corp's application for the Energy East pipeline to take oil from Alberta and Saskatchewan to the East Coast, and the expansion of Kinder Morgan Inc's Trans Mountain Pipeline to the Pacific.
Specifically addressing the Kinder Morgan application, Carr said the review was going ahead.
He appeared less clear when asked about Energy East: "I understand that any changes that we make to the process will have an effect on projects. I know that it's important, and we will be reviewing the situation and we will give you the results as soon as we can."
The minister said the government was committed to a process that has the confidence of Canadians.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, while campaigning in October for election, had said it was up to communities to decide whether to support Energy East.
"It is not up to government to support one project or another, it is up for a government to set the framework within which communities can choose, or not, to support a project," he said at the time.
Nonetheless, Carr reiterated on Wednesday the government's opposition to Enbridge Inc's Northern Gateway pipeline.
Greenpeace climate and energy campaigner Keith Stewart, referring to Trans Mountain, said he did not see "how the Trudeau government can continue with the review of a pipeline under rules that Trudeau has denounced for ignoring climate impacts, failing to respect indigenous rights, and lacking a grounding in sound science."
He pointed to video footage (goo.gl/eVBmxS) of Trudeau saying in August that the new environmental process would apply to the Kinder Morgan line. Trudeau said it would not be approved in January because there would be a new Liberal government "and that process needs to be redone."
Reporting by Randall Palmer; Editing by Paul Simao and Alan Crosby