Canada Announces Plans to Streamline the Approval Process for Major Resource Projects

On April 17, 2012, the Canadian federal government announced further plans to streamline the federal environmental assessment (EA) process for certain major resource projects as part of the government’s Responsible Resource Development initiative. The plans are expected to significantly improve the efficiency of the review and approval process for new large mining, oil and gas, and related infrastructure projects. The announcement elaborates on the recent federal Economic Action Plan 2012, in which the government recognized both the importance of resource development and the need for comprehensive reform to Canada’s existing EA system to ensure that major resource projects are reviewed in a timely and transparent manner, while effectively protecting the environment.

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver commented that the new plans "will help prevent the long delays in reviewing major economic projects that kill potential jobs and stall economic growth by putting valuable investment at risk."

The current announcement proposes many streamlining measures, including the following:

  • Moving toward a "one project, one review" system for new major projects by allowing federal EA processes to be replaced by applicable provincial ones as long as they meet the requirements of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA).
  • Establishing categories of projects of "national importance" that would require a federal EA. Projects that are not of national importance would be exempt from the federal EA process. Natural Resources Canada has indicated that the public would be consulted in developing the categories, which is expected to include certain significant mining and energy projects.
  • Consolidating the current streams of federal EAs – which include screening assessments, comprehensive studies and review panels – into two processes: a standard EA and a more complex review panel.
  • Setting timelines for the completion of each EA process: 12 months for projects undergoing a standard EA; 24 months for projects undergoing a panel review under the CEAA; and 18 months for projects undergoing a panel review under the National Energy Board Act (NEBA).
  • Setting "legally binding timelines" for key regulatory permitting processes.
  • Ensuring that the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency issues a decision within 45 days on whether a project must undergo a federal EA.
  • Imposing enforceable terms and conditions in final EA decisions that authorize proposed projects to proceed. Such decisions would require projects to implement follow-up programs after the completion of a federal EA in order to verify the accuracy of the project’s predicted environmental effects and to determine whether its proposed mitigation measures are being implemented. Under the proposals, federal inspectors would be authorized to examine whether a project complies with the terms and conditions of an EA decision statement. The proposals also include authorizing the use of administrative monetary penalties for violations of the CEAA, NEBA and the Nuclear Safety and Control Act.

To effect the proposals, Minister Oliver has indicated that draft legislative and regulatory amendments will be published in the coming weeks.

For further information, please see Responsible Resource Development.

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