Tighter rules for Canada energy projects could be seen in 2017

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Tighter environmental rules for Canadian natural resource projects could start coming into force in 2017, ahead of schedule, an official said on Monday, giving industry an idea of when to expect the new measures.

The Liberals of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took power last November promising to toughen up a range of regulations they said the previous Conservative government had weakened in a bid to cut the time needed to approve pipelines and mines.

Government officials said in January they hoped to have a review of the required changes at the start of 2018.

“Some changes may be able to be made sooner ... we’ll be moving forward as quickly as possible,” Environment Minister Catherine McKenna told a briefing to outline how the government would examine what reforms were needed.

A specialist panel will consult Canadians on how to tighten environmental assessment rules to ensure projects are more sustainable. It will report back by the end of January 2017.

That is also the deadline for a separate panel to report on how to change the structure, role and mandate of the National Energy Board regulator, which rules on whether projects can go ahead. Critics say the body is not tough enough on the industry and does not adequately consult indigenous communities.

In January, the government announced new interim rules that will impose delays on two projects - TransCanada Corp’s Energy East pipeline and Kinder Morgan Inc’s expansion of its Trans Mountain Pipeline.

Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Bernard Orr