New energy projects get two-year approval window under new assessment regime

OTTAWA — Major new energy projects will have to be assessed and either approved or denied within two years under a massive new national assessment bill being introduced in the House of Commons.

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, who introduced the 341-page Impact Assessment Act Thursday morning, said it will provide clarity and certainty about how the process works, what companies need to do, and why and how decisions are made.

“Canada just upped its game today,” McKenna said.

She said the new system will help improve certainty to attract investments and prevent the polarization of sides and legal battles such as those currently affecting the Trans Mountain pipeline project. That project, to triple the capacity of an existing line between Alberta and British Columbia, was approved under interim principles put in place by the Liberals in early 2016, but is still mired in controversy.

McKenna said the new system sets legislated time lines for making a decision, lifts the restrictions on who can participate in an assessment process to allow more people to weigh in and requires the reasons behind a decision to be made public, including access to the science used in each case. She believes all those things will help return confidence to a system she says is broken.

Under the new act, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency will be renamed the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada and reviews will look at far more than just the impact on environment. Health, social, and economic effects will also be considered, as will the effect on Indigenous rights. A gender-based analysis will also take place on every project.

Decisions will be made based on the pros and cons of a project, including its contribution to sustainability, the extent of any adverse effects and how they will be mitigated, the impacts on Indigenous lands and rights and how it will affect Canada’s ability to meet its environmental and climate change commitments.

The assessment agency is to become a one-stop shop for all assessments, including trying to co-ordinate with provincial governments so any project proponent only has to go through one review before a decision. The biggest or most involved projects will be assessed by a review panel appointed by the minister, while smaller projects will be looked at by the assessment agency.

Review panels will have 600 days, rather than 720, to complete their work and cabinet will make the decision whether a project goes ahead, within 90 days. The agency assessments will take a maximum of 300 days — down from 365 — and decisions made by the minister of environment in no more than 30 days.

Before a proponent even submits an application for review, they will be required to undergo an early planning phase, of a maximum of six months, to try and work with various stakeholders, including Indigenous communities, ahead of time to see what issues and concerns might arise.

McKenna said “smart proponents already do this.”

“If you don’t do the work on the front end you’re just not going to get to a conclusion quickly and you may end up in court or having protests,” she said.

The National Energy Board is being remade into the Canadian Energy Regulator, with some changes including requiring at least one board member be Indigenous and that expert panels used by the regulator include expertise in Indigenous knowledge, municipal issues, engineering and environmental issues. The CER, as it will be known, will remain based in Calgary, an official rejection of a recommendation last year to move at least some of the board’s functions to Ottawa.

The federal government will spend $1 billion over the next five years to implement the new process, including hiring more scientists to review impact statements from project proponents.

Both the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers said they were pleased with the legislated timelines and the “one project, one assessment” philosophy behind the new act.

Tim McMillan, president of the petroleum producers, said the early-engagement requirement could be great, but he wants more information.

“There may be some work that needs to be done before the clock is started,” he said. “If that is more cumbersome or onerous than what we had before, it may actually be a net negative. If this is done really well, maybe that does mean there’s a benefit.”

The CEPA is concerned issues such as climate change will be taken into consideration, saying it is subjective and could make decisions political.

University of Ottawa law professor Stewart Elgie, who specializes in environmental and natural resource law, says the bill will make Canada the only country in the world with national assessment legislation that requires the government to consider sustainability and climate change commitments when deciding whether to approve a project or not.

“That is real environmental teeth,” he said.

However other environmental groups say it’s not clear how Canada will determine if a project meets those climate change commitments or not.

Megan Leslie, a former NDP MP and now president of World Wildlife Fund Canada, said climate is only a consideration, not a requirement. Leslie said the increased transparency requirements are a net gain however.— follow ↕mrabson on Twitter.

Just Posted

Red Deer raises $60,000 for Make-A-Wish Foundation

27 brave residents rappell down Stantec Building

People hurt in rollover near Red Deer

Occupants of a vehicle that rolled south of Hwy 11A were airlifted… Continue reading

Eager-beaver cannabis entrepreneurs already waiting outside Red Deer City Hall

Appications will be accepted on a first-come basis starting on Tuesday

Like father like son: Red Deer area Dreeshen family dedicates life to public service

There are three jobs that could be considered the Dreeshen family business:… Continue reading

Restaurant owner concerned about Gasoline Alley road changes

Nearly 20 trucks were lined up on the service road in front… Continue reading

WATCH: Hypnotizing show at Westerner Days

Hynotist and mentalist Joshua Seth performs three times a day at Westerner Days

Evacuation numbers remain at nearly 1,000 as B.C. wildfires rage on

SUMMERLAND, B.C. — Officials in British Columbia’s Okanagan region hope that fire… Continue reading

WWII hero’s lost Purple Heart returned to his family

NEW YORK — A lost Purple Heart medal has been returned to… Continue reading

California girl, 2, accidentally shot and killed by boy, 4

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. — Authorities say a 4-year-old boy accidentally shot and… Continue reading

A hairy issue: Sailors tell the US Navy, ‘We want beards’

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Now that women in the Navy can wear ponytails,… Continue reading

PHOTOS: River Town Saints rock Red Deer

River Town Saints play Westerner Days Friday in Red Deer

PHOTOS: Dogs, horses and more animals at Westerner Days

Westerner Park’s pavilions were filled with animals during Westerner Days

Red Deer residents can’t get enough mini-doughnuts

Mini-doughnuts were the biggest draw to Westerner Days according to a Red… Continue reading

Four-car crash, including RCMP vehicle, on Highway 2

Two sheriff vehicles were also involved in the collision

Most Read


Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month