OTTAWA — Canada’s environmental assessment law should be reformed through a scheduled parliamentary review, not weakened through piecemeal amendments buried in a budget bill, Ecojustice and Sierra Club Canada said today.
“Parliament should close loopholes in environmental laws, not create new ones to suit the tar sands and other extractive industries,” said Stephen Hazell, Ecojustice lawyer. “The Senate Finance Committee has an opportunity to avoid creating new legal loopholes and prevent catastrophes such as Deepwater Horizon from happening in Canada.”
Hazell will appear before the Senate National Finance Committee today on behalf of Ecojustice and Sierra Club Canada to recommend that the committee remove environmental assessment law changes from Bill C-9, and instead refer these proposed changes to the House of Commons Environment Committee for its scheduled review of environmental assessment law this autumn.
“Stephen Harper and Jim Prentice are dismantling federal environmental assessment law in much the same way that George Bush dismantled regulation of the financial services industry and Mike Harris deregulated control of drinking water supplies,” said John Bennett, Sierra Club Canada’s executive director. “Does anyone truly believe that the environmental effects of tar sands, mining and offshore oil drilling will be assessed properly without vigorous federal engagement?”
Bill C-9 proposes to permanently eliminate thousands of required environmental assessments and give the government broad discretion to reduce the scope of projects subject to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. For example, the energy minster could limit the assessment of a proposed tar sands mine so that the project, for the purpose of the environmental assessment, is reduced to a stream crossing — which contradicts the recent Supreme Court Ruling on the Red Chris Mine.
“The government’s approach is about getting the feds out of environmental assessment; it is not about reducing overlap and duplication,” Bennett said. “Duplication of efforts has already been largely eliminated due to the work of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency and the Major Projects Management Office established by the Harper government a few years ago.”
Bill C-9 is not the first time the Conservative government has used omnibus budget implementation legislation to weaken federal environmental assessment. In 2009, amendments to the Navigable Waters Protection Act (NWPA) granted the government a discretionary authority to identify what waterways were deemed worthy of federal protection.