The Liberal government’s Impact Assessment Act is getting harsh reviews from resource-industry executives, including a warning that the legislation would make it virtually impossible to build oil and gas pipelines in Canada.
Liberal ministers argue the legislation will restore Canadians’ trust in the regulatory process under which major resources projects are assessed, and will ensure good projects are approved and built in a timely manner.
Bill C-69 is currently being reviewed by the Commons environment committee, and industry witnesses have come with a litany of concerns. They point to the broad and ill-defined nature of the bill’s “sustainability” test under which regulators will not only assess environmental issues but broader social concerns such as Indigenous reconciliation and gender impacts.
While the legislation covers all types of mining and energy developments, the Liberals are attempting to reassure the public that politically contentious oil pipeline projects will be subject to rigorous, scientific and inclusive reviews.
In a scathing submission to the committee, the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association complained the government is chasing away energy-industry investment by creating new hurdles for projects.
“We have a vast resource base; it’s going to need new infrastructure but it’s really hard to imagine that somebody is going to propose a major new project to ensure that those resources get developed,” association president Chris Bloomer said in an interview Monday.
“We don’t see [the legislation] is going to provide the clarity and certainty for those projects to go ahead.”
The association had urged the government to have a separate process to determine whether additional oil pipelines would be in the national interest, and then consider only narrow siting issues when assessing a specific project.
The industry’s opposition is being echoed by Alberta’s United Conservative Party opposition leader Jason Kenney, who released a letter Monday calling on the province’s legislature to pass a motion opposing the federal legislation.
A spokeswoman for Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said Monday that Mr. Kenney’s motion is “simplistic and premature.” The NDP government “heavily engaged” with Ottawa to push for exemptions for pipelines and oil sands from the climate assessment part of the impact reviews.
“We’ve working closely with the federal government and discussions are well under way on exemptions as well as ensuring that Alberta’s interests are protected,” Ms. Notley’s director of communications, Cheryl Oates, said in an email.
“We are actively seeking exemptions for oil sands as well as pipelines due to our substantial action on climate change.”
In addition to the oil and pipeline sectors, other industry officials have weighed in with criticism of the Liberal legislation.
The Mining Association of Canada complained that projects that have already applied for approvals may have to restart the assessment process once Bill C-69 is passed. At a committee hearing last week, association president Pierre Gratton noted that energy projects currently in the queue will not have to go back to square one, and argued his industry faces a “double standard.”
However, Mr. Gratton said his industry supports many aspects of the legislation, including clearer timelines and a greater role for Indigenous people in the reviews.
Canada has seen its share of global mining investment fall by half in the past five years and the number of projects applying for review is at a record low, he said. It is critical for Ottawa to get the environmental assessment process right, he added.
The Canadian Electricity Association warned that federal and provincial governments are layering a plethora of new rules – including the Impact Assessment Act – on companies seeking to build major infrastructure projects.
Without some amendments, the new impact assessment rules would ”discourage worthy investments,” CEA’s chief operating officer Francis Bradley said.
While industry lobbyists argued the legislation tilts the balance away from timely project approvals, environmental groups complain it has not gone far enough in ensuring development is sustainable and environmentally benign.
In a “report card” issued last week, eight environmental groups urged the committee to make a number of amendments to the legislation to ensure that sustainability is the key determinant in assessing a project.