Local MP Nathan Cullen is accusing the federal Conservatives of “gutting the environmental assessment process,” which he says is a Tory concession to Albertan Oil and Gas industry, to limit a project’s opponents ability to fight it at the regulatory level which is what is happening with the Enbridge Pipeline hearings.
“The government has everything it is capable of to undermine this process, and this would absolutely kill any illusion in the public’s mind that this is a fair assessment,” says Cullen
Cullen’s remarks come in response to a parliamentary report that came out last week that6 contained 20 different recommendations for changes to how the Environmental Assessment Act could be “modernized.”
The recommendations include allowing Provincial environmental assessments to fulfill the requirement for a federal one, creating a list of projects that require a assessment instead of assuming they all do, giving more power to the Environment Minister to determine if a assessment is necessary and the imposition of “enforceable” time lines for assessments. While the recommendation is only for the assessments, the report floats the idea of imposing them on public participation and final approvals.
This, says Cullen, gives a big advantage to companies who might be trying to get approval for a unpopular project.
“The way they do this is make a deadline on the process and if the company stalls and delays the government still has to issue the permit. So it’s actually to the company’s advantage to not come forward, have the conversations and bring the science to bear, and they’ll still get a decision,” says Cullen.
While great emphasis is put on having “enforceable” time lines in the report, but focuses mostly on addressing the bureaucratic and governmental reasons for why assessments can become so drawn out. It doesn’t address Cullen’s hypothetical scenario of a company stalling because the committee says that companies are losing money the longer the assessments take, and just want them to be over with so they can move on to the next stage of the project.
The report doesn’t really say what happens if an imposed time-line can’t be met, or if the government would be obligated to approve the project with an incomplete assessment.
While the Conservatives are arguing that these steps will modernize the environmental assessment process, making it much more predictable, efficient and effective. But the government as opined in the past that the Enbridge Gateway Pipeline hearings have been hijacked by interest groups and “radicals,” and Cullen says this is a way for them to prevent a similar outcome when the next controversial project comes around.
“The government is cutting off its nose to spite it’s face. We know the Conservatives don’t like environmental assessments, they don’t like the the ideas of them. But the fact-of-the-matter is that you have to understand the complexities of a project and what the impact might be,” says Cullen.