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The environmental review of proposed resource projects in Canada continues to undergo changes of late.

Back in 2012, a duo of omnibus bills–Bill C-38 and Bill C-45–introduced significant changes to the way in which resource projects, such as the construction and expansion of pipelines. These changes included the scrapping and replacement of the existing federal environmental assessment legislation and revisions to the National Energy Board Act.

These changes were problematic for a number of reasons, including for their impacts upon the NEB’s ability to consider climate impacts when assessing prospective pipeline projects. Subsequent to the introduction of these changes, the NEB steadfastly refused to consider any upstream or climate impacts of any kind in its review of pipeline projects.

The recently elected Liberal government has announced changes as part of a first step towards setting the regime on a course towards incorporating climate considerations in such evaluations. This “interim” process will see that going forward, all resource projects be assessed for upstream greenhouse gas emissions.

The interim process will affect projects that have yet to be proposed, as well as those that are currently under review–including the hotly contested Energy East and Trans Mountain expansion projects.

It also plans to appoint a ministerial advisor who will be responsible for consulting with first nation communities along pipeline routes.

Conspicuously absent for the moment, however, has been any firm commitment to repeal the changes introduced under the omnibus bills.

Moreover, decisions pertaining to these interim assessments — to be done in addition to the NEB process — will rest with Cabinet. So the NEB’s current approach does not appear to be directly affected.

To what extent has the pendulum actually swung? What actual, practical role will climate considerations play in these reviews?

Much remains to be seen.

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