Daily Oil Bulletin: June 22, 2012
Omnibus Bill Set To Overhaul Environmental Legislation
A federal bill to be passed next week by the Senate will probably make environmental assessments of oilsands projects proceed faster, says a Calgary environmental lawyer.
"The expectation is that it will streamline the process," said Duff Harper, with the Calgary office of Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP.
Currently, oilsands projects over a certain size must undergo environmental assessments under provincial law, and if they meet certain criteria -- if they are on federal lands, involve federal money, if the federal government is the project proponent or if they require certain federal permits, approvals or authorizations -- go through a federal assessment.
When C-38 is passed by the Senate, it will contain a provision to essentially allow the provincial process to replace the federal one, Harper told the Daily Oil Bulletin on the sidelines of a Canadian Institute conference this week.
"The net effect of that is, if the Government of Canada says that the Alberta environmental assessment process is satisfactory then future environmental assessments of projects would only be subject to one assessment, not two," said Harper.
Generally, large projects require federal approval under the Fisheries Act, for dealing with the deposit of hazardous substances, and the Navigable Waters Protection Act, he said. "If you build anything across a river you may interfere with navigation, you need to have an approval and often those two approvals are the triggers to require a federal environmental assessment."
Several existing oilsands projects have undergone joint assessments, such as Total E&P Canada Ltd.'s Joslyn North Mine project and Imperial Oil Limited's Kearl project, Harper noted.
Part of the federal government's omnibus budget bill, Bill C-38, is set to overhaul the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA) and amend a number of other statutes governing the environment and natural resources, including the Fisheries Act, National Energy Board Act, Canadian Environmental Protection Act and Species at Risk Act.
Harper said the bill will revoke the existing CEAA and replace it with CEAA 2012.
According to The Lawyers Weekly, Bill C-38 imposes mandatory timelines for environmental assessment decisions, with the aim of ensuring a more predictable and timely review of projects.
Under the new CEAA, standard assessments must be completed in 12 months and panel reviews in 24 months. Assessments started under the existing CEAA will likewise be governed by mandatory timelines, depending on the type of assessment being undertaken, and the date that it was started, said the online journal.
It also said Bill C-38 would appear to endow federal authorities with significant discretion to limit standing to participate in environmental assessment proceedings involving large-scale natural resource projects, such as Enbridge Inc.'s Northern Gateway project.
Currently, members of the public may attend environmental assessment proceedings and federal authorities must consider public comments before making a determination. However, only "interested parties" may participate in panel reviews and assessments conducted pursuant to the National Energy Board Act, it said.
"The new CEAA would narrow the definition of an 'interested party' to any person 'directly affected by the carrying out of the designated project' or any person who 'has relevant information or expertise,' in the opinion of a responsible authority or review panel. The old definition was 'any person or body having an interest in the outcome of the environmental assessment for a purpose that is neither frivolous nor vexatious,'" said The Lawyers Weekly.