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Harper government moves to limit environmental assessments

The Globe and Mail reports this afternoon that, “The federal Conservatives are giving Environment Minister Jim Prentice clear legal authority to avoid ordering full assessments of environmentally controversial projects, such as major mines and oil sands operations, according to a provision contained in the bill implementing details of the government’s new budget.”

“The new provisions weren’t publicly announced at the time the budget was unveiled earlier in March, and only came to light late Tuesday after the release of the bill implementing financial aspects of the government new economic measures.”

“Federal environmental assessments are usually applied to big and controversial industrial projects, such as pipelines, mines, and marine terminals. They’re typically ordered in cases where a project might harm fish habitat or have other impacts on wildlife.”

“The key provisions of the legislation will give Mr. Prentice the power to order reviews of only small aspects of potentially damaging projects, and not the entire undertakings, as is now usually the case.”

“By placing the items in a budget bill, the environmental measures can only be repealed if the legislation is defeated, triggering an election call.”

“The Mining Association of Canada has been lobbying the government for nearly 15 years to have quicker assessments and reviews by only a single level of government, according to Justyna Laurie-Lean, vice-president of environment and health for the Ottawa-based trade group.”

Last week the Council of Canadians presented to a federal environmental assessment panel in Williams Lake, British Columbia in an effort to stop the destruction of Teztan Biny (Fish Lake) by Taseko Mines Ltd., which is proposing to drain the lake in order to stockpile rock waste from a gold-copper mining project called Prosperity Mine.

At that time the Williams Lake Tribune reported that (even), “Fisheries and Oceans Canada raised concerns about Taseko Mines Ltd.’s fish compensation plan for the proposed prosperity mine while at the federal review panel hearings…”

“(Adam Silverstein, regional manager of the Habitat Management Division for Fisheries and Oceans Canada) said Taseko has focused on re-creating the biomass of the 85,000 fish in Fish Lake at Prosperity Lake but doesn’t account for the remaining estimated 80,000 fish in the associated tributaries and Little Fish Lake.”

“He also noted other concerns at the hearing… including risks to streams, wetlands, fish habitat, spawning channels, and the First Nations fishery. ‘There’s a risk that First Nations will not be able to meet their food, social and ceremonial needs for fish,’ he said.”

The new measures placed in the budget bill by the Harper government would further weaken current environmental assessment processes and further endanger lakes and rivers in Canada.

The full article is at http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/tories-curtail-key-environment-provisions/article1518844/.