Environmental Assessment Report Slammed As 'Fictitious'

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OIL SANDS CANADA
A night view of the Syncrude oil sands extraction facility near the town of Fort McMurray in Alberta Province, Canada on October 22, 2009. (AFP/Getty Images) | AFP/Getty Images


A report from the Commons environment committee has government MPs calling for the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act to be "modernized" and the opposition dismissing the committee's work as a fiction.

The majority opinion made 20 recommendations on how to bring the legislation up to date in the report released Tuesday. The main focus was on reducing overlap between provincial and federal assessments and speeding up the system.

"Quite simply CEAA needs to be modernized. Canada needs an environmental assessment process by which our country's great wealth of natural resources can be sustainably developed in a timely fashion while ensuring our natural heritage is protected," said Michelle Rempel, parliamentary secretary to the Minister of the Environment.

Rempel talked about the need for a "one-project, one-review process." Basically, it is a call to cut down on the regulatory hoops that companies must jump through to get a project up and running.

"We should be able to achieve positive environmental outcomes but ensure that the business process that surrounds [environmental assessments] are effective and efficient," said Rempel.

The report also recommended that the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, the body responsible for administering the CEAA, restrict itself to assessing "projects of environmental significance."

"In its current form, the CEAA requires an environmental assessment be completed before a new bench can be installed in a Canadian National Park," recounted Rempel.

Dissenting opinion

The New Democrats wanted nothing to do with the report and tacked on a five-page dissenting opinion at the end.

"We highlight the numerous and highly concerning ways that this process was flawed, which makes the report deficient. The long and the short of it, the report did not meet any acceptable standard for what a legislative review should look like," said NDP Environment Critic Megan Leslie. The report came out of a mandatory five-year review of the CEAA.

The opposition's main objections to the final report were that not enough time was spent on the review itself and that some expert witnesses were excluded from testifying. Leslie said the report was written just to provide the government with "handy messaging."

"The report you will have before you is a fictitious re-enactment of committee hearings," argued Leslie.

Green Party leader Elizabeth May was even more scathing.

"Pipelines, oil sands development, projects big and small will be rubber-stamped in jig time," May told reporters outside the House of Commons.

Among the committee's other recommendations:

- consolidate the minister's powers so that decisions to review projects are a one-step process instead of two.

- eliminate parts of the act that look at the capacity of renewable resources and that allow an examination of business alternatives.

- introduce binding timelines for all environmental assessments.

- if provinces are set up to assess a project, let them do it on their own, instead of a two-step process or a joint review.

- create a list of projects that should be reviewed, instead of assuming everything needs a review.

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