August 2016


Federal government to review environmental assessment processes, National Energy Board

Trans Mountain
Minister of Natural Resources James Carr is leading a review of the National Energy Board, which is responsible for approving pipeline projects like Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain expansion | Courtesy of Kinder Morgan

Six federal cabinet ministers announced reviews of Canada’s environmental assessment processes and the National Energy Board (NEB), which is responsible for approving pipelines, among other duties. Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna is leading the environmental assessment review, and Minister of Natural Resources James Carr is leading the “modernization” of the NEB.

“We are seeking to provide regulatory certainty not only to project proponents, so they know the basis on which decisions will be made, but also to the public, so they know that the environment will be protected and economic growth will be based on proper oversight and safeguards,” McKenna said at a news conference in mid-June.

Both reviews were campaign promises made by the Liberal party during the 2015 election. During the campaign, the Liberals said they wanted to make sure Canadians are “able to trust that government will engage in appropriate regulatory oversight, including credible environmental assessments, and that it will respect the rights of those most affected, such as Indigenous communities.”

Both ministers will establish expert panels to seek feedback from indigenous groups and stakeholders, as well as members of the public. The panels will report back to their respective ministers with recommendations by Jan. 31, 2017.

The environmental assessment review panel will examine the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, which the previous Conservative government introduced in 2012 in an omnibus bill. The Act relaxed the rules around environmental assessments, reducing the number and scope of necessary assessments, allowing some federal departments, specifically the NEB, to issue licences and permits without a completed assessment and limiting public input on projects.

Carr said the NEB review will focus on the board’s governance and look at how to better consult with indigenous groups. The review will also examine the NEB’s compliance, enforcement and monitoring practices.

When Justin Trudeau unveiled the Liberals’ environmental platform last June he promised to “put some teeth” back into the board, and criticized the previous government for “[choosing] to be a cheerleader instead of a referee on issues like this.”

The government put a set of “interim principles” and transitional measures in place in January for major resource projects under review, which involve better engagement with indigenous groups and the public, and assessment of projects’ upstream greenhouse gas emissions. The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and the NEB will all continue to use the 2012 Act to conduct assessments until the review is finished.

The Mining Association of Canada (MAC) will be part of the environmental review process, which it supports because it believes that the act “resulted in a slight increase in the extent of federal approvals required for mining projects,” MAC spokesperson Jessica Draker wrote in an email.

“[The review] should promote the sustainable development of our mineral resources,” said Draker, “including meaningful consultation with Aboriginal communities, and ensure that Canada remains a top place for mineral investment.”

– Vince Morello

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