The Canadian government is proposing consolidating environmental reviews under a single agency while adding a new approval step for proponents of pipelines and other major projects — in what it says is a bid to both strengthen and clarify environmental rules.
The proposal would add a requirement for an “early engagement” phase for projects that the government says would lead to “clear guidance” for industry on how a full assessment will proceed, and how long it will take. The move is aimed at industry frustrations that Canada’s existing environmental approval process is already a maze — unclear, time-consuming, legally fraught and under the watch of multiple agencies.
The proposal, contained in a discussion paper published Thursday, lays out a framework that comes after a review of environmental assessment rules, fisheries laws and the National Energy Board, which oversees pipelines in the country with the world’s third-largest proven oil reserves. A wide range of projects is subject to environmental assessments. The changes would only impact new ones, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has said existing proposals such as TransCanada Corp.’s Energy East pipeline won’t be sent back to square one.
The proposal raises the prospect of greater “cost recovery” from the oil and gas industry, while also focusing on ensuring a “single window” agency for federal environmental approvals and permitting while expanding the power of people to intervene in the process and making more data publicly available.
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