Time Limits Coming for Regulayory Review hearings: Joe Oliver

Financial Post
January 26, 2012

CALGARY — Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver vowed Wednesday the federal government will mandate strict timelines on regulatory reviews of industrial projects in Canada as part of legislation that will be introduced this year — a move that immediately drew criticism from environmental groups.

Warning that lengthily reviews cause investment dollars to leave Canada, Oliver told a Calgary business crowd he wants to eliminate overlap in environmental assessment of economy-boosting mining and energy projects by Ottawa and the provinces and territories.

“The fundamental reorganization we need to make requires system-wide legislative changes and lots of it,” Oliver said, noting the provinces and territories are broadly on board with the idea to co-operate on regulatory approvals since discussions at a meeting of mines and energy ministers in Kananaskis, Alta. last July.

“The ultimate goal is simple — one project, one review in a clearly defined time period,” he said, making his remarks at an event hosted by the Calgary Chamber of Commerce.

Oliver told reporters the changes will still allow “legitimate” intervention by Canadians concerned about the environmental impact of projects, including aboriginal groups, but that strict timelines need to be enforced.

“The Mackenzie Valley gas pipeline process took nine years to be approved, Joslyn North (oilsands mine) took six years. This is excessive.”

Oliver repeated his criticism of “abuse” by some “radical” environmental groups opposed to development of oil projects on ideological grounds, accusing them of “gaming” the review process and referring to the ongoing hearings regarding Enbridge Inc.’s proposed Northern Gateway oil pipeline.

He said the government has no plans to intervene in the review of Northern Gateway, a 1,200-kilometre line which would transport 525,000 barrels of crude per day from Alberta’s oilsands to port in British Columbia for shipment by tanker to Asia.

Hearings by a federal joint review panel scheduled to make a recommendation on the project late next year have attracted more than 4,000 speakers, the majority of them opposed to the project. Environmental groups have taken credit for organizing them.

Lawyer Josh Paterson of Vancouver-based West Coast Environmental Law, one of the groups concerned about the threat of pipeline leaks and oil tanker spills in coastal waters from Northern Gateway, criticized Oliver’s focus on quick reviews. Paterson said “massive” industrial projects take a long time to study.

“We think that there are many improvements that need to be made to the federal regulatory system to enhance environmental protection,” Paterson said. “Worrying that they take too long is near the bottom of our list. We need to make sure that these decisions are made right.”

Industry groups have called for a more streamlined and efficient regulatory review of projects.

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