VANCOUVER (miningweekly.com) – Ottawa on Thursday tabled new legislation to improve the federal environmental assessment process for mining projects.
The legislation is aimed at strengthening and restoring the credibility of Canada's environmental laws.
Making good on a core Liberal election platform promise to review and improve Canada's environmental laws, government introduced legislation to enact the Impact Assessment Act, the new Canadian Energy Regulator Act and amend the Navigation Protection Act (renamed the Canadian Navigable Waters Act). The new Bills dovetail into legislation tabled earlier in the week to amend the Fisheries Act.
Introduced by Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna in the House of Commons on Thursday, the legislation contemplates sweeping changes to Canada's regulatory regime, as it seeks to better protect the environment and communities as hundreds of major resource projects worth more than C$500-billion are planned for development over the next decade.
"With better rules for major projects, our environment will be cleaner and our economy stronger. Making decisions based on robust science, evidence and indigenous traditional knowledge, respecting indigenous rights and ensuring more timely and predictable project reviews will attract investment and development that creates good, middle-class jobs for Canadians," McKenna stated.
The new rules aim to increase public participation in project reviews, including a new early-stage engagement phase. The new rules will be founded on scientific data, while also drawing on indigenous traditional knowledge, and make easy-to-understand summaries of decisions that are made public.
The new rules will aim to put in place a more comprehensive impact assessment regime, replacing the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act of 2012. The new legislation will include gender-based analysis. It is expected to reduce duplication and red tape by establishing the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada (currently the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency) to lead all federal reviews of major projects, working with other bodies like the new Canadian Energy Regulator (currently the National Energy Board), the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and Offshore Boards, and in cooperation with provinces and territories and indigenous jurisdictions.
Further, project proponents will benefit from reduced review timelines, with fewer possible stops of the legislative clock.
Government also committed to invest up to C$1.01-billion over five years to support the proposed new impact assessment regime and Canadian Energy Regulator; increase scientific capacity in federal departments and agencies; make the changes required to protect water, fish and navigation; and increase indigenous and public participation.
"With these better rules, we will demonstrate how we can grow the economy and get our resources to market, while advancing reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples and protecting the environment for future generations," Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr noted.
The Mining Association of Canada (MAC) said it and its members are reviewing the proposed legislative changes.
At first glance, the draft legislation introduces a range of new concepts related to timelines and costs, which depending on how they are implemented, could adversely impact the industry's competitiveness and growth prospects, the MAC cautioned. However, at the same time, the Bill appears to strengthen the [Impact Assessment] Agency's authority to run efficient processes.
"How well the regulatory regime works is a decisive factor for the health of the mining industry and Canada's ability to attract new mineral investment. It will also influence whether Canada can harness the potential of a low-carbon future, which has already begun to increase global demand for key minerals and metals such as copper, lithium, nickel, cobalt, iron and steelmaking coal," MAC president and CEO Pierre Gratton said in a statement.
"We will continue to engage with the federal government on the new legislation and in consultations on subsequent regulations to work towards an effective and efficient project review process."
The MAC added that it is critical that government carefully plan for the transition and ensure that there is adequate capacity to implement the new approach.
"We're encouraged by the government's recognition of the need for capacity with its planned investment of C$1-billion over five years to help ensure that the Impact Assessment Agency and departments can effectively implement the changes," stated Gratton.
The Association for Mineral Exploration (AME) also welcomed the proposed new legislation.
"In particular, we are encouraged by legislation that defines the concept of 'one project, one assessment', as stressed in the federal government's expert panel report from June 2017, and [which] also proposes to establish firm deadlines for environmental-impact assessments," AME president and CEO Edie Thome said in a statement.
She added that the AME is also encouraged that assessment decisions will be ultimately determined by recognising that project decisions will be arrived at to reflect the public interest, while ensuring that indigenous participation is fulsome and meaningful. The move from an agency that only considers environmental questions to one that includes economic considerations is also welcomed, as reinforced by the Minister of Natural Resources' Parliamentary Secretary Kim Rudd in the government-industry forum at AME Roundup 2018 just over two weeks ago," she said.
The AME considers the new legislation as a "promising first step" in a consistent, time-bound and transparent impact assessment process that is needed by its members to attract investment in mineral exploration so that discoveries can indeed lead to the development of new mines, AME chairperson Dr 'Lyn Anglin added.
Meanwhile, environment-focused nongovernmental organisation Pembina Institute postdoctoral fellow Nichole Dusyk hailed the new rules, saying the announcement demonstrates that the government took seriously its task of consulting with experts and interested parties as it developed two new pieces of cornerstone energy and environmental legislation.
"We strongly support the commitment to conduct a strategic impact assessment on climate change – an essential process to align Canada's climate and energy policy objectives. We look forward to unpacking the ways in which carbon pollution will trigger a federal impact assessment, since better climate decision-making must be a central component of this reform package," Dusyk said.
"High-quality, independent energy data is a critical component of a credible assessment process. Building on today's legislation, we would like to see progress towards the establishment of an independent Canadian Energy Information Agency to ensure that project reviews include Paris Agreement-compliant supply and demand scenarios for coal, oil and gas."
The mining industry is one of Canada's most significant industries and economic contributors, accounting for C$57.6-billion to the national gross domestic product and being responsible for 19% of the value of Canadian goods exports in 2016.