Environmental assessments of projects like pipelines will no longer be conducted by the National Energy Board.
In sweeping changes announced Thursday, February 8 by federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, Ottawa plans to replace both the Environmental Assessment Act and Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.
They will be replaced, respectively, by the new Impact Assessment Act and Impact Assessment Agency of Canada, which will assume responsibility for all assessments that require federal reviews. The government will create a projects list that will define whether a project will require a federal assessment or can be handled by provincial agencies.
But agencies like the NEB and Fisheries and Oceans will no longer have the authority to conduct environmental reviews. All reviews will be done by the new Impact Assessment Agency.
The changes are aimed at restoring public confidence in the environmental review process, which was changed in 2012 by the Stephen Harper government.
The new agency will coordinate with provinces and territories to avoid duplication of processes, McKenna said.
“Our goal is one project, one review,” McKenna said at a press conference.
The changes will only come into effect after they are passed by Parliament. Until then, all projects currently in review will be assessed under current acts and agencies.
While McKenna said the new regulations will result in a more streamlined process and quicker review decisions, the new act and agency will also add new layers of regulation and $1 billion in additional funding over five years.
For example, all projects subject to federal review will need to be considered within the framework of the Paris Agreement and Canada’s commitment to it.
In other words, the greenhouse gas emissions that a new pipeline, oil sands project or mine would generate will need to be factored into a final decision on whether a project can go ahead or not.
First Nations will also be given a stronger role in the assessment process. Consultations with First Nations will need to start from the very beginning of a project proposal. Assessments will also need to consider First Nations “traditional knowledge.”
Project proponents may also need to spend more money on things like environmental mitigation.
“We will consider whether companies are using the best available technologies and practices to reduce impacts on the environment,” McKenna said.
Despite all the new regulations, McKenna promised the new process will be quicker with more predictable outcomes.
“The new early planning and engagement phase will provide clarity on what’s required and more certainty about the process ahead,” she said.
McKenna said the new regulations will also have shorter legislated timelines for completing reviews.
“Shorter legislated timelines for the project review phase will be rigorously managed to keep the process on track,” McKenna said.
The government will create a projects list that will better define which projects that will be subject to federal assessments.
Under the new act and agency, other acts and agencies, like the Fisheries and Oceans and Canadian Navigable Waters Act will also be changed to reflect the new measures.