Trudeau government poised to overhaul environmental assessment process on energy projects like pipelines, CBC

Legislation this week expected to mean changes to National Energy Board

Elizabeth Thompson • CBC News • Posted: Feb 05, 2018 4:00 AM ET

The government is set to unveil its plans for changes in the way environmental assessments are done for projects like pipelines. (Credit: Alex Panetta/The Canadian Press)

The Trudeau government is poised to introduce legislation this week to overhaul the way the federal government does environmental assessments on major energy projects like pipelines.

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna is to table a bill in coming days to enact the Impact Assessment Act and the Canadian Energy Regulator Act, as well as amend the Navigation Protection Act. On Tuesday, Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc is to table a second bill to amend the Fisheries Act.

Speaking to reporters Monday, McKenna said the government has worked for 14 months on its environmental assessment legislation.

“We will have a process that will restore the confidence of Canadians, which will make certain that we work in partnership with Indigenous peoples, that will make sure that decisions are made on good science and facts and will also ensure that good projects can proceed to grow our economy and ensure good jobs for Canadians.”

Instead of three separate bodies reviewing a designated project like a pipeline, the government is expected to create a single agency to assess the environmental and economic impacts of a project along with social and health impacts. That single agency would also co-ordinate consultations with Indigenous people.

Overhauling the National Energy Board and the environmental assessment process has been a priority for the Trudeau government from the outset.

The mandate letters Trudeau gave McKenna and Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr the day they took their oaths of office in November 2015 call on them to “review Canada’s environmental assessment processes to regain public trust,” and introduce new, fair processes.

Carr was also charged with overhauling the National Energy Board.

“Modernize the National Energy Board to ensure that its composition reflects regional views and has sufficient expertise in fields such as environmental science, community development and Indigenous traditional knowledge,” Carr’s mandate letter stated.

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna is expected to table legislation this week to overhaul the National Energy Board and the way big natural resources projects are assessed. (Credit: CBC)

‘Read the discussion paper’

The National Energy Board was first established in 1959.

In January 2016, the government announced interim principles to guide decisions on major projects and a transition phase. It appointed an expert panel to examine the issue and then in June 2017 published a discussion paper.

Hints to what will be in the legislation lie in that discussion paper. Its recommendations are reported to still be on the table.

“It’s a really good document in terms of what is being considered,” said one source.

“Read the discussion paper and you’ll get a pretty good idea.”

Currently, there are three separate agencies responsible for environmental assessments — all with their own sets of rules — the National Energy Board (NEB), the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA).

Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr’s mandate letter called on him to modernize the National Energy Board. (Credit: CBC)

One of the key measures called for in the discussion paper is to have one single body examine federally designated projects.

The discussion paper also recommends that for “major energy transmission, nuclear and offshore oil and gas projects,” the new agency and the agencies that will regulate projects over their life cycles would conduct joint impact assessments as part of a “single, integrated review process.”

Under the discussion paper’s proposals the NEB, CNSC and the CEAA would still exist but would focus more on regulating projects over their life spans.

The roadmap sketched out by the government in the discussion paper provides for an early planning phase for projects and early consultations with Indigenous people.

The discussion paper also called for the government to restore lost protections and incorporate modern safeguards in the Fisheries Act and the Navigation Protection Act.

In 2012, omnibus legislation introduced under Stephen Harper’s government concentrated the application of the Navigation Protection Act to 162 waterways, removing the protection from many others.

In his response in June to a parliamentary transport committee report that recommended changes to the act such as increasing the number of protected waterways, Transport Minister Marc Garneau provided insight into the government’s plans.

“In a number of areas, it proposes to go beyond the recommendations to increase participation of Indigenous groups in the process, restore lost protections and effectively protect the public right of navigation,” he wrote.

Speaking Monday to reporters, Garneau said the legislation will both restore lost protections and add other things as well.

“We’ve restored the protections that were there before in a pragmatic and practical manner that will clearly show how important it is from our government’s point of view to protect the rights of Canadians to travel on our waterways.”

However, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May was skeptical.

“Everything I have seen in the preparation of this legislation leads me to believe that we’re going to be disappointed.”