Research is questioning the logic behind the federal government's move to streamline environmental assessments.
After tracking thousands of assessments over a decade, the peer-reviewed findings of Derrick de Kerckhove suggest a great majority of Fisheries Act environmental reviews over the last decade were completed well within recommended timelines.
Nor was there a bottleneck of projects being held up by a clogged review process, he said.
"We didn't find any. Even when the input was high, it seemed to be handled very well."
De Kerckhove, a University of Toronto PhD candidate, analyzed 10 years worth of data from Department of Fisheries and Oceans annual reports on the progress of environmental assessments triggered under the Fisheries Act. That legislation generates more such reviews than almost any other — anywhere from 7,700 to more than 12,000 in a single year.
His paper, published last month in the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Acquatic Sciences, found that simple reviews in which impacts on fish habitat could be fixed were completed within months, 19 times out of 20.
More complicated reviews, which required projects to compensate for damaged fish habitat, were finished within the next calendar year, 19 times out of 20.
That contradicts the rationale for the federal government's extensive changes last year to environmental assessments, de Kerckhove said. The government said it was concerned about slow processing and bottlenecked reviews holding up development.
But de Kerckhove said almost all proceeded smoothly. The ones that took a long time tended to be resource megaprojects.
The arbitrary time limit of two years for all reviews imposed in new legislation is a one-size-fits-all solution, de Kerckhove said.
"You're really doing a potential disservice to Canadians by scrapping a system that was working really well rather than tailoring the more difficult reviews for those larger economic projects."
He said other means could have been found to streamline large projects without new restrictions, which include removing protections from some rivers and many non-commercial fish species.
Fisheries and Ocean spokeswoman Melanie Carkner said the new rules do make those distinctions.
"Fisheries and Oceans Canada is adopting a practical, common-sense approach that focuses on managing threats to Canada’s recreational, commercial and aboriginal fisheries and the fish habitat on which they depend," she said in an email. "Our new approach draws clear distinctions between different types and sizes of projects and waterways and takes into account the potential serious harm to our fisheries."
John Bennett of the Sierra Club said de Kerckhove's findings reveal the underlying motive of the government's changes.
"It just demonstrates there was no real reason to do it in the first place," he said. "It was not about making it more effficient, it was about reducing the strength of environmental protection."
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Top 10 Most Polluting Countries
We look at which 10 countries have the most CO2 emissions. Figure are preliminary 2010 numbers from the U.S. government's <a href="http://cdiac.ornl.gov/trends/emis/perlim_2009_2010_estimates.html" target="_hplink">Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center. </a> (Photo Getty Images)
#10 - Saudia Arabia
Estimated CO2 Emissions in 2010 (in thousands of metric tonnes): 493,726 (Photo MARWAN NAAMANI/AFP/Getty Images)
#9 - Canada
Estimated CO2 Emissions in 2010 (in thousands of metric tonnes): 518,475 (Photo MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
#8 - Korea
Estimated CO2 Emissions in 2010 (in thousands of metric tonnes): 563,126 (Photo CHOI JAE-KU/AFP/Getty Images)
#7 - Iran
Estimated CO2 Emissions in 2010 (in thousands of metric tonnes): 574,667 (Photo FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images)
#6 - Germany
Estimated CO2 Emissions in 2010 (in thousands of metric tonnes): 762,543 (Photo JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images)
#5 - Japan
Estimated CO2 Emissions in 2010 (in thousands of metric tonnes): 1,138,432 (Photo YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images)
#4 - Russia
Estimated CO2 Emissions in 2010 (in thousands of metric tonnes): 1,688,688 (Photo KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images)
#3 - India
Estimated CO2 Emissions in 2010 (in thousands of metric tonnes): 2,069,738 (Photo ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images)
#2 - USA
Estimated CO2 Emissions in 2010 (in thousands of metric tonnes): 5,492,170 (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
#1 - China
Estimated CO2 Emissions in 2010 (in thousands of metric tonnes): 8,240,958 (Photo PETER PARKS/AFP/Getty Images)