Federal environmental assessments cuts worry scientists

08/28/2012 07:17 EDT | Updated 10/28/2012 05:12 EDT
Environmentalists in New Brunswick are warning of the possibility of an increased threat now that more than 150 federal environmental assessments have been cancelled.

In its most recent budget, the federal government changed the law to make big cuts to the types and numbers of projects that require environmental assessments.

In New Brunswick, there are 159 projects that will no longer require a federal environmental assessment. There are 3,000 cancelled projects across Canada.

Bill C-38, Ottawa's omnibus budget legislation, passed in the House of Commons in June.

All were wiped out last month when the new Canadian Environmental Assessment Act came into affect.

Ottawa says it will make doing business more efficient, but environmentalists say it's making it easier for the federal government and industry to push through projects that could harm the environment.

"We're talking about potential significant environmental damage by a thousand cuts,” said Michel LeBlanc DesNeiges, legal counsel for the New Brunswick Environmental Law Society.

“Problems in environment accumulate. So when a lot of these projects are tossed aside, there's always the potential that the cumulative affect is going to be detrimental to the environment."

While many of the projects on the New Brunswick list seem routine, some are not, such as the removal and construction of bridges, the dredging of several New Brunswick harbours and the expansion of salmon farms in the Bay of Fundy.

It's those projects that concern Matt Abbott, Fundy Baykeeper for the New Brunswick Conservation Council.

"Salmon farms are located in sensitive inshore coastal regions. They produce sometimes very large volumes of waste.

“As well there are various chemicals used in the feed, as well as used to treat the salmon for sea lice, so if there's changes as to where that's located in a given bay, I think there should be assessment to see what the environmental impact is, and I think really there should be greater scrutiny," Abbott said.

For New Brunswickers concerned about the impact of the loss of the federal assessments, options are limited.

"The fact that the federal government will no longer be present means that the burden will either fall on the provincial government to pick up the slack, or a lot of these projects are going to fall into the cracks," said DesNeiges.