* New rules will speed approval of pipelines, mines
* Canada keen to quicken development of oil-rich tar sands
* Environmentalists say new rules increase disaster risks
* Government removes veto right from energy regulator
By Euan Rocha and David Ljunggren
TORONTO/OTTAWA, April 17 Canada said on Tuesday
it would streamline the way it performs environmental reviews on
major industrial projects in a bid to speed the development of
mines and pipelines, a move critics predicted could cause an
And in a policy change that could benefit the oil and gas
industry, the Conservative government said it will strip key
veto powers from the federal energy regulator and give itself
the final say on approving major pipelines.
The right-of-center Conservatives say the current regulatory
system is too complex and lengthy and could threaten up to C$500
billion ($505 billion) of new investments in energy and mining
industries over the next decade.
"We have to compete with other resource-rich countries for
fast-growing markets and scarce capital. And we must do it now,"
Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said in a speech unveiling
the new rules.
The federal government now will focus only on major reviews,
handing over responsibility for some projects to Canada's 10
provinces, while ensuring each proposed development is assessed
Ottawa will also impose legally binding timetables on
reviews, which in the past have taken up to seven years to
complete. Once the new rules are adopted, an assessment will be
limited to a maximum of two years.
"We have immense resources, we are an energy superpower,
we're a mining giant, and this can have an incredibly positive
impact on the future prosperity and security of Canadians,"
Oliver told reporters after the speech.
The Conservatives are particularly keen to speed development
of the oil-rich tar sands of northern Alberta, which represent
the world's third largest oil reserves, and to build pipelines
to take the Alberta crude to ports on the Pacific Coast.
Environmentalists strongly oppose that idea.
Under the current system, the government can stop a pipeline
plan that the National Energy Board - the federal energy
regulator - has approved but it cannot overrule a decision by
the NEB to veto a project. That will now change.
An official document said Ottawa would "establish clearer
accountability for decisions on major pipeline projects in the
national interest by giving government authority to make the
'go/no go' decisions."
Kinder Morgan Energy Partners LP and Enbridge Inc
are both proposing to build major pipelines from
Alberta to the Pacific Coast.
The NEB has only vetoed three projects since 1959 but it
sometimes attaches conditions to the approvals it grants.
"What I think this points to is potential politicization of
these decisions," said Josh Paterson of the West Coast
Environmental Law Centre.
Other green activists - who complain about the
Conservatives' tight ties to the energy industry - say trimming
the regulatory process could lead to disaster.
"These changes are about handing oil and mining companies
their approvals faster, rather than asking what kind of legacy
this leaves for the next generation," said Keith Stewart of
Oliver dismissed the idea that the environment would suffer,
noting that Ottawa planned to impose stiff fines on firms
breaking the rules and would boost both pipeline inspections as
well as measures designed to improve tanker safety.
"Projects will go forward too fast and mistakes will be
made. There will be more court cases," said John Bennett of the
Legal experts say truncating the regulatory process could
leave proponents of major projects exposed to lengthy court
Asked whether the new rules would prevent lawsuits, Oliver
replied: "This legislative project does not impact on people's
legal rights ... we cannot preclude legal action."
Over 40 federal government departments and organizations
currently have responsibility for project reviews. This number
will be cut back to three.
"The minister's goal of 'one project, one review, completed
in a clearly defined time period' makes great sense and would
support developments that bring jobs and prosperity to
Canadians," said Todd Nogier, spokesman for pipeline company