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Ottawa’s decision to bring in a “one project, one review” regulatory process for major energy projects doesn’t sit well with environmental groups or First Nations, but it’s the right way to go. In fact, if there is a concern, it’s that it took too long to reform an unwieldy system that is benefiting no one – except those feeding off its paralysis.
Anyone who has sat through public hearings into high-profile projects knows issues, concerns and suggestions become repetitive within days. And yet a regulatory review of the Mackenzie gas pipeline took six years, while the panel now reviewing the Northern Gateway pipeline is patiently hearing from an unprecedented 4,000-plus people.
In its budget Thursday, the federal government said it plans to introduce legislation to impose a maximum 24-month limit for reviews, cap hearings by the National Energy Board at 18 months and standard environmental assessments at no more than 12 months.
The streamlining will apply to reviews already in progress, including the one by the joint review panel of the National Energy Board and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency into the Northern Gateway oil sands pipeline from Alberta to the British Columbia coast.
Public hearings for the project, proposed by Enbridge Inc., started in January, but the review actually got underway in 2005.
Because switching in midstream may be tricky, discussions are underway to put in place transitional measures, said Joe Oliver, the Natural Resources Minister spearheading the change.
“Because the pipelines that are under current review are at different stages, each one is going to have to be looked at individually,” Mr. Oliver said in an interview.
Annie Roy, spokeswoman for the Northern Gateway review panel, said it’s at the stage of hearing oral statements from people along the pipeline route. Under its current schedule, a decision would come down at the end of 2013.
The panel can’t “speculate” about how the proposed changes will impact the hearings and “will continue to conduct a review that is independent, transparent and fair,” she said.
The new regime will apply to an expansion of the TransMountain pipeline from Alberta to Vancouver. Proponent Kinder Morgan is in the final stages of planning and will file for regulatory approval after an environmental assessment and consultation with stakeholders, including First Nations.
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