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The Federal Budget Bill, Bill C-38, dramatically cuts down federal environmental assessment.

The existing Canadian Environmental Assessment Act is revoked and replaced by a new, much more limited assessment regime. It will apply only to projects specifically chosen for review by the federal Minister of Environment or Cabinet. All automatic triggers for federal EA are eliminated.  The federal assessment of “cumulative effects” has bee eliminated.

The only purpose of the new assessments will be to identify “significant adverse environmental effects that fall within the legislative authority of Parliament, or that are directly linked or necessarily incidental to a federal authority’s exercise of a power or performance of a duty or function that is required for the carrying out of the project.”

Even then, the federal assessment can be delegated to a province, or waived if another jurisdiction has an “equivalent” process. And the EA process must be completed “within applicable time limits”. If a federal EA does proceed, there will be some form of public participation, participant funding, a public registry, and some form of followup on the conditions imposed.

The largest federal authorities that have made it hard to approve resource projects are fisheries and endangered species. Both areas will now be made easier for project proponents. Fisheries protection will be limited to commercial, recreational and Aboriginal fisheries, and permits to harm endangered species will be issued quicker, last longer and be easier to renew.

In total, resource project proponents should find it quicker, easier and cheaper to get permission to build what they want, with far less interference from the federal government, or those pesky environmental groups. The courts will eventually tell us whether they can so easily dispose of opposition from First Nations.

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