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The government recently announced the members it has appointed to the Review of the Environmental Assessment Process Expert Panel (the “EA Panel”), created to examine how environmental federal environmental assessments are conducted for large-scale resource projects.

The federal government has been under pressure from environmental groups and First Nation governments following a series of significant changes to Canada’s environmental protection regime, including to the process for assessing large-scale resource projects. These changes were introduced by the prior Conservative government through two omnibus bills in 2012. Among other effects, these changes reduced environmental oversight over such projects so as to make the process more streamlined.

The Liberal government had promised earlier this year that an overhaul of Canada’s environmental protection regime was on the horizon. The EA Panel has been established as one part of this effort.

According to its terms of reference, the EA Panel’s mandate is linked to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change’s mandate to review the environmental assessment process to “regain public trust and help get resources to market and introduce new, fair processes” that will, among other things, ensure meaningful participation. The EA Panel will engage broadly with the Canadian public, including indigenous group, and its work will include as yet unspecified consultation opportunities for stakeholders.

The creation of a National Energy Board (NEB) Modernization Expert Panel (the “NEB Panel”) has also been announced by the Minister of Natural Resources. The NEB Panel will focus on “modernizing” the NEB by examining its structure, role, and mandate. This process, too, will involve stakeholder engagement. It does not appear as though panel members have been appointed as yet.

The NEB has been heavily criticised in recent years for its approach to assessing pipeline projects. Particularly damaging were recent media reports of private meetings between NEB officials and representatives from industry, local government, business, and civil society in Quebec over the controversial Energy East pipeline project. Reportedly, two of the project’s three panel members were present at those meetings. Energy East is fiercely contested in parts of the province (and elsewhere). A Quebec lawyer has demanded a public inquiry into the meetings.

Additional reviews, by way of Parliamentary committee, will be conducted of both fish habitat protection and navigation protection. The 2012 omnibus bills made significant changes to both of these regimes, weakening environmental protections in the process.

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