Canada will speed up and simplify environmental reviews for major economic projects such as mining and energy, the federal government announced today.
The plan, released by Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, sets hard deadlines on the process, consolidates the agencies that conduct environmental reviews to three from 40, and allows provincial agencies to study smaller projects in a bid to reduce duplication.
“It will help prevent the long delays in reviewing major economic projects that kill potential jobs and stall economic growth,” Oliver said in Toronto.
Canada is betting oil companies such as Suncor Energy Inc. (SU) and Enbridge Inc. (ENB) will boost the world’s 10th-largest economy out of a sluggish recovery. The measures will seek to expedite the environmental review of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline, which would move crude from Alberta’s oil sands to Asia, capitalizing on demand for natural resources.
Since winning a parliamentary majority in last year’s elections, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government has pledged to take steps to support economic growth, in part by developing the country’s resource wealth and encouraging business investment.
The government began hearings in January on Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, which has become a flashpoint between environmentalists and Harper’s government. Regulators have received more than 4,000 requests by individuals to testify at public hearings.
Environmental and aboriginal groups say the project will increase the risk of an oil spill off the coast of British Columbia. The regulatory panel has said it plans to complete the review by the end of 2013.
The federal government’s plan narrows the focus of its main environmental assessment agency so it can accelerate reviews of major industrial projects. The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency examines projects that receive funding from or require the approval of the federal government, including oil and gas pipelines.
Reducing the agency’s workload would eliminate redundancies created by overlapping reviews also done by Canada’s provinces, according to the document.
The federal government and the provinces agreed last year to pursue the so-called goal of “one-project, one-review” for environmental assessments and regulatory reviews.
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