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Liberals ease regulations required to pass projects with large environmental impacts

As a public statement by the organization, Environmental Defence reads, “For virtually every class of project,”—and that includes pipelines, nuclear reactors, mines and highways—“The thresholds for the size of a project have increased.”
Samuel Helguero Montreal, QC

On August 2, eight organizations penned a letter to the federal government. They were writing worried that Canadian born projects would not be amply assessed by the federal government for their environmental, health, economic, and social impacts.

The recently passed Impact Assessment Act—the subject of their concern—governed the oversight of projects like pipelines and coal mines.

The act dictated the point at which certain projects (often those of a larger scale, that pose hazardous risks like nuclear plants and fracking) would have to be put up for assessment.

Similarly, the act also set up the basis upon which projects could escape overview by government bodies and concerned indigenous groups alike.

With an impact assessment in place, projects found to violate certain conditions, posing certain risks, will be stopped unless the Governor in Council and the Minister of the Environment decide to intervene.

When relevant regulations were proposed (those governing the criteria by which an assessment would be demanded), the authors of this early August letter stated reproachfully that the Liberal’s plan would not only “fail to restore impact assessment oversight to the vast majority of projects” but “would in fact reduce it.”

Wednesday’s release of the Liberal government’s Physical Activity Regulations seems to have confirmed these fears.

As a public statement by the organization Environmental Defence reads, “For virtually every class of project,”—and that includes pipelines, nuclear reactors, mines and highways—“The thresholds for the size of a project have increased.”

A coal mine, for instance, now must be 60 per cent larger to be eligible for an impact assessment.

Moreover, what is called a GHG trigger (the level of emissions beyond which a project must be subject to overview) was not included in the Physical Activities Regulations. In consultations, a GHG trigger was suggested repeatedly to the federal government.

Proponents viewed the GHG trigger a particularly important tool for lowering Canada’s contribution to climate change.

Already, according to a watchdog overseeing climate commitments, in satisfying its emission reduction goals, Canada is “far from its Paris Agreement target and nowhere near a 1.5?C-compatible pathway.”

Placed historically, this recent policy measure passed by the federal Liberals follows a trend started in 2012. Despite growing efforts to strengthen oversight between 1973 and 2012, the Harper government passed the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012.

The 2012 act set the precedent for allowing the majority of projects involving federal funding and decision-making to bypass oversight. Consequently, leading up to the recent release of regulations under the Liberal’s Impact Assessment Act, lobbying efforts were underway to preserve measures set in place in 2012.

Samuel Helguero
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