Gélinas to Recommend ‘Substantial’ Change for Environmental Assessment
A panel that has been studying the way the Canadian government reviews the environmental impact of major energy projects will propose major changes, the panel’s chair says—but she won’t hint at what they may be.
Federal environmental impact assessment was dramatically changed under the previous Conservative government, as part of a package of reforms intended to expedite development of fossil energy projects. Among other changes, the Harper government eliminated reviews from as many as 3,000 projects a year, and moved authority for the rest from the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency—home to most federal expertise on the subject—to the National Energy Board, operated largely as a service organization to the Alberta-based oil and gas industry.
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The Liberal government that replaced the Conservative a year ago, “faced with increasingly vocal protests against proposed new oil pipelines, “wants to reform the assessment process,” Reuters writes.
And the chair of the panel scheduled to file its suggestions for what those changes should be, says it won’t hold back. “We’re not planning to come with little recommendations at the margins. We are thinking of coming with something substantial in terms of changes,” Johanne Gélinas told the news agency.
“Two sources familiar with the matter said last month that Ottawa might curb the NEB’s power by stripping it of sole oversight of new projects,” Reuters writes, but Gelinas “declined to give specific details” or confirm that suggestion. The agency noted the “many comments” the panel had heard about the impact of projects on sustainability, and the opportunity for public comment on proposed developments.
“There is a lot of pressure on us to come up with the right recipe and there’s no room for error,” Gélinas told Reuters. Her panel drew criticism in September for the presence on it of Doug Horswill, a former vice-president of Teck Resources, an historic B.C. mining company.
Gélinas, meanwhile, has her own history with the previous government. After serving on the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, she became Canada’s Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development until former Prime Minister Stephen Harper sacked her in 2007, after she criticized the country’s inaction on climate change.