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Critics cried foul Tuesday over the federal government’s decision to overhaul its environmental assessment process, calling it a bid to fast-track big oil and gas projects at the expense of the environment.
And environmentalists say there’s no better cautionary tale than the proposed Prosperity mine near Williams Lake in Interior B.C., which the province approved in 2010 but the federal government later disallowed.
The Conservative government’s planned changes, announced Tuesday but first mentioned in last month’s federal budget, would hand over environmental oversight for many projects to the provinces and reduce the number of federal review organizations and departments from more than 40 to three.
Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver said the assessment process needs streamlining because the current one is duplicative and cumbersome, and small projects that pose no risk to the environment are delayed. The government says new rules would provide predictability for investors.
Provincial oversight bodies that meet federal standards under Canada’s Environmental Assessment Act will conduct their own reviews on projects, Oliver said. That would leave the federal government to focus on “major projects,” defined by their potential environmental impact and importance to the economy.
Observers say questions remain as to what exactly would constitute a major project under the new rules.
In January 2010, a B.C. review process approved Taseko Mines’ contentious $800 million proposal for a gold and copper mine, saying the economic benefits would outweigh the environmental effects.
But the federal government vetoed the proposal in November 2010 after a panel found the proposed mine would have adverse effects on fish habitat and “potential or established aboriginal rights or title.” Among other things, the proposal would have turned Fish Lake, once featured in a B.C. tourism brochure, into a tailing dump.
Had the current proposed rules been in place in 2010, environmental advocates say, the province’s ruling might have stood and the lake might have become a hazardous waste dump.
For the rest of this article, please go to the Toronto Star website: http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/politics/article/1162871–tories-introduce-sweeping-changes-to-environmental-assessments