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NEWS: Harper moves to further weaken environmental assessment laws

The Globe and Mail reports, “The government is poised to introduce legislation as early as this week that will revamp its environmental assessment process and turn over many reviews to the provinces. Among the changes is the move to give the federal cabinet power to overturn any decision by the National Energy Board to reject a project on environmental grounds. …The environmental changes will be part of the government’s omnibus budget legislation, which it aims to pass before the House of Commons rises for the summer at the end of June.”

“The proposed changes would also reduce the ability of non-government organizations to intervene in environmental assessments to oppose development. Mr. Oliver said they can still participate where their members are directly impacted by a project, or where a group has expertise that would inform the regulators.”

The Harper government has already said that it will implement legislation that limits environmental assessment reviews to 24 months, National Energy Board hearings to 18 months, and standard environmental assessments to 12 months.

“In an interview Sunday, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said there will be little practical impact from that controversial change because the federal agency has so rarely turned down a project.” In August 2010, the Montreal Gazette reported, “Since the Conservatives took power in February 2006, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s cabinet has made 25 appointments to the boards of the National Energy Board, and the two federal-provincial agencies that regulate drilling off the East Coast: the Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board and the Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board. …Most of the individuals appointed by the Harper government to the agencies that oversee offshore-petroleum drilling in Canada are former industry insiders or government officials with no stated experience in environmental issues.”

Today’s Globe and Mail article notes, “Opposition critics complain that the Harper government is politicizing the environmental assessment process by sending strong signals that, regardless of the outcome of a current review panel hearing, the cabinet will approve the Northern Gateway pipeline, which would carry oil sands bitumen to the British Columbia coast for export to Asia.”

The Council of Canadians has endorsed a petition campaign that demands: “Stop the plan to roll back Canada’s environmental laws”. To sign the petition, please go to http://www.envirolawsmatter.ca/petition. In early-March, we joined with more than 40 other groups to call for stronger environmental assessment laws in Canada, http://canadians.org/blog/?p=13860.