Mining Welcomes Canada's Planned 'One Project, One-Review' Permitting Process

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"The Harper government's plan to streamline major project review at the federal level, while leaving smaller project permitting to provincial regulators is garnering support from the Canadian mining and energy industries."

Two major Canadian mining associations gave their blessings to Canadian Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver's announcement of the federal commitment to streamline the permitting process for major mining and other major natural resource projects.

"Today's announcement is a welcome signal from the federal government that it is committed to move toward a one-project, one-review process that should create more certainty for companies, investors, stakeholders and Aboriginal communities," said Gavin Diron, CEO of the Association for Mineral Exploration British Columbia.

The Mining Association of Canada CEO Pierre Gratton said, "We support the government's plans to provide a more coherent and coordinated approach to environmental assessments for major mining projects. With $140 billion in potential new mining investment over the next five years, the efficiency and clarity that will result from these reforms will allow Canada to better compete internationally for investment and take advantage of growing emerging market demand for commodities."

The government of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper wants to move toward a "one project, one review" system for reviews of major projects by recognizing provincial processes as substitutes or equivalents to federal ones as long as they meet the requirements under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act."

In a speech Tuesday, Minister Oliver said, "Specifically, we intend to focus federal assessment efforts on major projects that can have significant environmental effects, such as energy and mining projects, rather than spending valuable resources on reviews of maple syrup operations, buildings to wash blueberries, and internal renovations to existing government buildings."

"With scarce resources, it is counter-productive to have the federal and provincial governments completing separate reviews of the same project. As part of our efforts to move to ‘one project, one review' we will be in a position to recognize provincial reviews as long as they meet the requirements of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act," he stressed.

The plan for Responsible Resource Development has four main pillars: more predictable and timely reviews; less duplication in reviewing projects; strong environmental protection, and enhanced consultations with Aboriginal peoples.

The proposal would set timelines for key regulatory permitting processes, as well as timelines for hearings and assessment including 24 months for panel reviews and 12 months for standard environmental assessments. It would also consolidate the number of organizations responsible for reviews from more than 40 to three: The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, the National Energy Board and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.

For the first time, administrative monetary penalties would be imposed for violations of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, the Nuclear Safety and Control Act, and the National Energy Board Act. The proposed penalties could range from Cdn$25,000 to a maximum of C$100,000.

The Harper government has committed $13.6 million over two years to support consultations with Aboriginal peoples, as well as another $54 million over two years to the Major Project Initiative. In March alone, three new mining proposals were added to the list of projects that the Major Project Management Office will help guide through federal regulatory approval processes.

Meanwhile, small mining projects or smaller components of mining projects may find their environmental regulation switched to the province under the proposal.

The Canadian government estimates that more than 500 resource projects worth more than C$500 billion could come on stream over the next 10 years.

As might be anticipated, environmental groups and oppositions parties say the proposals will dismantle the checks and balances that protect the environment.

"You're going to have less time, less resources from the federal government to actually look at and understand these projects and less opportunity for the public to point out errors and omissions in submissions by proponents," Sierra Club Canada Executive , John Bennett, told CBC News.

"What's really happening here is that the federal government is abdicating its responsibility and trying to get out of the protecting-the-environment business," he declared.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May told CBC News, "This kind of savaging of the environmental assessment process is more about speeding up the development even more than the industry needs."

However, MAC's Gratton suggested, "Greater efficiency and coordination in the review process will not come at a cost to the environment. The regulatory changes are targeted specifically to introducing predictable and realistic timelines for reviews, as well as eliminating duplication between provincial and federal governments in the review and consulting processes." –Dorothy Kosich, Mineweb

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