Streamline? Or gut like a fish?


The Globe and Mail's headline on yesterday evening's story was "Ottawa wants to streamline environmental reviews". After some discussion about eliminating inefficiencies and duplication, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver summed things up for us:

We respect the integrity of the regulatory process but we do need to get these projects approved.

Which does make it sound as though the approval is to be a foregone conclusion and the assessment process is just so much theatre. And we all know how this government feels about theatre. Note this as well:

While Ottawa hopes to work with the provinces to eliminate duplication, Mr. Oliver said it won't wait, but will act alone to streamline the process.

Of course it's possible that I'm over-reacting and the Conservatives do intend to leave something approaching a rigorous regulatory and assessment process in place. But consider this bit of streamlining:

Environmental groups across Canada are expressing shock over the abrupt termination of the Parliamentary review of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA). Committee hearings scheduled for today were cancelled late last week without warning, and even written submissions are no longer being accepted.

"The House of Commons Environment and Sustainable Development Committee has apparently been told to abandon half-way the job that it is legally required to do," said MiningWatch Canada's Jamie Kneen, co-chair of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Caucus of the Canadian Environmental Network.

While the actual words are mine rather than his, Kneen goes on to suggest that "gut like a fish" may be exactly what they intend to do to the environmental assessment process.

Recent experience would suggest that when this government abruptly ends consultation and vows to go full speed ahead with its own agenda no matter what anyone else thinks, bad things happen.

Do you think we should change Peter Kent's title?

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Definitely gutting. They already streamlined the process back in 2008 when Baird was at the Environment helm.

...Le Devoir has revealed that the Harper government is planning to pass amendments to the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Act and Review Regulations by limiting EIA to projects above $10 million. Under the current EIA Act all projects with potential negative environmental impacts or receiving federal financing have to submit to the EIA process. By limiting the scope of the federal EIA, the government wants to fast-track the many infrastructure projects to be financed under the Building Canada seven year plan (2007-2014). Non-exempted projects will be undergoing the provincial EIA process that in general is much less rigorous than its federal counterpart.
alt textFederal Environmental Impact Assessment process

The federal government is also planning to enact a ‘new law’ that will permanently replace the EIA Act regulation in March or April, the details of which will be negotiated this Friday when Prime Minister Harper meets its provincial counterparts. It is expected that the law will establish a new process of impact assessment for large projects, authorise the fusion of federal and provincial processes, and put in place a “simplified regimes for crown lands”. Its application will be the responsibility of the Canadian Environmental Impact Assessment Agency and is expected to accelerate the implementation of infrastructure projects. This new amendments will have significant implications for projects on First Nations territories, which are largely crown lands.

The Minister of Transport, John Baird wants so called ‘green’ projects that include transportation and waste-water treatment plants to be exempt from EIAs...

Yeah, if you start by foreclosing the possibility that any of these projects might be rejected, one does wonder what the point is of reviewing them. I'd have more respect for them, in a horrible way, if they just admitted "We think having environmental laws and regulations is stupid so the plan is to eliminate them where we can and ignore them the rest of the time."
If it costs billions in environmental damage to make millions in profits . . . well, I'm sure Dr. Evil would understand that math.

"Gut like a fish" is indeed what I would have gone on to say. I'd also say that the process has been in place since Paul Martin was PM, when it was called "consolidation". The difference is that under the Liberals the "reform" was held up by consultations, wherein the people that actually (a) know what they're doing and (b) understand the concept of sustainable development could participate, do research, and ask questions. Evidence doesn't matter any more, but we'll see how well it works when bad projects start blowing up in investors' faces. Literally, in some cases, if design flaws and regulatory gaps are not caught and addressed...

we'll see how well it works when bad projects start blowing up in investors' faces.

The other thing I would expect to see is more protest aimed at blocking projects that local citizens and/or activists feel haven't been properly assessed.

Hmmm, yeah. It's kind of like with unions. Forces of protest are fairly effectively constrained by the impression that there is some kind of formal process for addressing their issues. But if that gets ditched or too-obviously gutted, so does the constraint.
With unions, things like the government action on the airlines have people musing about skipping the processes that are stacked against them and just going wildcat.

The Cons, for better or worse, find it hard to perceive this kind of thing because they are fundamentally uncivilized.

I wonder how the federal Conservatives will react to landowners who oppose energy projects being developed across the land. Will they side with the landowners in defending their property rights, or will they allow the energy companies to use appropriation to build the projects anyway, regardless of what the landowners say?

That's what really put the brakes on Keystone, mind you. It was those angry Nebraska landowners-people who are not known for their progressive tendencies-who got so hot under the collar over TransCanada's threats that they started putting pressure on the state government, who in turn came out against it and started putting pressure on Obama.

That's still a really big problem here in Alberta-a lot of conservative landowners are very angry about the provincial government's attempts to build these major powerlines across their properties. Google "Heartland Transmission Line" for the details.


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This page contains a single entry by pogge published on November 29, 2011 4:00 PM.

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