Building common ground: Federal Liberals gear up to revamp environmental review process
The federal government has released their long awaited report of recommendations on how to modernize the way major projects are evaluated. The recommendations were drafted by a four-member Expert Panel that consulted with Canadians across the country over the past 6 months. The team was mandated to review the country's environment assessment process and restore public confidence in the system.
The panel says they heard a wide variety of views, from full-on support to all-out opposition.
Quebec and BC reported the most angst over pipeline reviews. Albertans expressed difficulties in keeping up with the numerous projects and short time-frames for assessments. Consultations with Indigenous Peoples in general reported perceptions of having their rights and interests ignored.
The panel suggests the term "environmental assessment" be rephrased as "impact assessment" encompassing more social, economic, health and cultural issues, including general impacts on climate change.
Another key recommendation is the "one project, one assessment" principle. Under the current process, environmental assessments require reviews by federal, provincial, territorial, municipal and Indigenous governments, where each level of government can only regulate matters within its own jurisdiction. The panel says all jurisdictions need to find a way to work together and recommends a harmonization of federal assessments with provincial/territorial reviews.
The report also acknowledges that the NEB is sometimes perceived as being biased towards the energy industry, since it is also the country's energy regulator and staffed with people from the energy sector.
The group recommends forming an "Impact Assessment Commission" and splitting assessments into three phases: a Planning Phase, Study Phase and Decision Phase. The panel also recommends a major increase in funding, public participation and oversight from Indigenous Peoples.
Canada's environmental review process has been criticized for being far too slow, cumbersome and costly. The panel suggests the new Impact Assessment process will restore confidence, reduce conflict and be more efficient.
The report is now open to comments from the general public. The federal government has promised any changes made to the review process will not affect projects currently under review, such as Energy East.
GOV'T OF CANADA BUILDING COMMON GROUND: A NEW VISION FOR IMPACT ASSESSMENT IN CANADA