Senate Amendments, Weak Proposed Regulations Threaten to Push Federal Environmental Assessment Bill C-69 Into Irrelevance
- Senate amendments threaten to exaggerate the role of regulatory agencies, restrict public access, and limit role of Indigenous authorities, among other problems.
- Proposed project list thresholds are more permissive than existing limits, and exclusions are broader than existing ones.
- Other proposed regulations would weaken public participation.
(Ottawa) As the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment, and Natural Resources (ENEV) continues its clause-by-clause review of Bill C-69 today, critics warn that most of its proposed amendments would substantially weaken the new Impact Assessment Act, already the product of extensive compromise with industry interests.
With over two hundred proposed amendments between the Conservatives, Liberals, and Independent Senators, it’s hard to sort out the precise details, but prominent among the proposed amendments are measures to give more powers to regulatory agencies like the Canadian Energy Regulator (the CER, successor to the National Energy Board), the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), and even the Newfoundland and Nova Scotia offshore petroleum boards.
“It’s disturbing to watch special interest groups use the Senate to derail the government’s efforts to revive public confidence in the federal environmental assessment process after the Harper government gutted it and handed it over to industry-friendly regulatory agencies like the NEB and CNSC,” said MiningWatch Canada spokesperson Jamie Kneen. “Bill C-69 leaves those agencies, plus the offshore petroleum boards, in key roles in impact assessments — and the Senate is proposing to make this even worse,” he added. “These agencies are widely seen as being captured by the very industries they are supposed to be regulating. They seem to be unable to work with the public, and yet they are still being allowed a major role in project assessment.”
Other proposed amendments would allow public participation in impact assessments to be restricted. In addition, proposals to make assessments follow even more rigid and arbitrary timelines will make it more difficult for communities to participate meaningfully, but will also seriously impede the ability of Indigenous authorities to exercise an independent role consistent with the implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
At the same time, the government has released draft versions of key regulations for the new Impact Assessment Act.The proposed list of projects that would be subject to assessments adds new entries for tidal and wind power projects, but increases the existing thresholds and exclusions for most major industrial projects, including mines.
“The proposed regulations are actually weaker than the existing Harper-era ones,” said Kneen, adding, “The government appears to be relying on regulatory regimes to substitute for impact assessment, on narrow regional assessments, and on weak and inconsistent provincial assessments and regulatory controls to justify limiting federal assessment.”
Other proposed regulations would undermine the proposed early planning phase of impact assessments by requiring proponents to do significant research before making their proposals public. “The importance of the early planning phase is one of the few aspects of the assessment process that all sectors agreed on,” said Kneen. “It’s disheartening to see it diminished, since it carried a lot of hope of identifying issues early on and allowing approaches to be developed to resolve them effectively rather than carrying them through the whole process,” he commented. “At this rate, C-69 may not actually represent a net improvement on the current law.”
Other proposed amendments would limit consideration of climate impacts, seek to prevent impact assessments from being challenged in court, and exclude projects from assessment if a regional assessment has been done – regardless of its scope, rigour, or findings.
The Standing Senate Committee has to report to the full Senate before the amended bill goes back to the House of Commons to be reconsidered. Unless the government extends the current session of Parliament, the bill would have to pass before the House is scheduled to rise on June 21.
For more information:
- Jamie Kneen, MiningWatch Canada, (613) 569-3439, jamie(at)miningwatch.ca