Bill C-69 and its potential to affect new mine development – by Mark Wittrup (CIM Magazine – November 19, 2018)

Will the new bill be able to balance politics with pragmatism?

In February the federal government tabled Bill C-69, legislation to replace the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 (CEAA 2012), introducing changes that have the potential to affect the licensing of new mining and other natural resource developments that fall under the current federal environmental review process.

The permitting of projects that require both federal and provincial approvals represents a worst case scenario for mine permitting in Canada. For instance, there is the potential that projects currently regulated only by provinces, such as potash developments, will end up captured by the federal process. We can expect an increase of these as more operations are captured by the revised, and likely expanded, Regulations Designating Physical Activities, all of which will require a new federal Impact Assessment (IA).

Despite the government’s IA reform promises of timeliness and predictability, the proposed legislation will deliver significantly more process at the front end to accommodate broader stakeholder input and alignment between the federal and provincial governments involved (and possibly the U.S. if the project is transboundary), as well as Indigenous groups.

As of the third reading, the originally proposed 180-day planning phase has been replaced by a more nebulous wording that the agency has to convene within 180 days. While there is merit in getting issues on the table early so they can be considered in project design, the proposed process will only exacerbate the current state of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) in Canada – plagued by timeliness and predictability issues due to an inability to properly scope projects and the power of interest organizations – unless there are responsibilities and timelines placed on all participants.

Why should the proponent be the only one with responsibilities in this process? It is frankly naive to expect that consensus can be achieved with so many different voices and agendas involved. It sets the stage for politics to override common sense and pragmatism.

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