Ensuring the environment and economy work in concert with each other is the crux of a 341-page document from federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna on Thursday.
The document, the Impact Assessment Act (IAA), was announced by McKenna in Ottawa and echoed by Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence Seamus O’Regan during a news conference in St. John’s Thursday afternoon.
“This is a unique place. I am struck by looking out and seeing a fishing fleet and oil tanker in the same location,” O’Regan said while outlining the irony of the location chosen for the news conference due to its surroundings and views.
“These groups have more in common than they do apart,” he added as he explained how the new Impact Assessment Act will result in better reviews of major projects that affect both industries.
Any of those — new and existing — will be assessed for not just environmental impacts, but for impacts on health, the economy, social issues, and gender and Indigenous rights.
Any new offshore projects will continue to be evaluated by a federal review panel, while existing projects will be handled locally and with less red tape by the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (CNLOPB).
The CNLOPB’s mandate is to interpret and apply the provisions of the Atlantic Accord and the Atlantic Accord Implementation Acts to all activities of operators in the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador offshore area and to oversee operator compliance with those statutory provisions in all projects occurring in this province’s offshore.
The role of the CNLOPB is to facilitate the exploration for and development of petroleum resources in the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador offshore area in a manner that is consistent with the CNLOPB’s mandate.
“The Atlantic Accord reigns supreme. This doesn’t change,” O’Regan said.
“The standards we have set are high. This act is a vote of confidence for the CNLOPB. They have done good work here.”
O’Regan said this will help everyone arrive at a fair answer through an informed process, as these new and improved rules will bring all partners to the table.
He said this will protect the environment, fish and waterways, rebuild public trust and create new jobs and economic opportunities for the middle class and those working hard to join it.
Natural Resources Minister Siobhan Coady held a news conference at her offices on Elizabeth Avenue following the announcement to outline the environmental and regulatory reviews related to the major projects announcement from earlier in the day.
“It is paramount that we have joint management of our offshore,” Coady said.
“We have advocated for the strong role of the CNLOPB and what we see today is acknowledgment of that.”
Coady said the responsible development of the offshore and the increased development of the oil and gas industry is critical to the people of this province. And in order to make sure that is done to the benefit of the province, she said, the CNLOPB will play a critical role in this, similar to what it has been doing for the past 30 years.
“There is still a lot of work to be done. We are building the framework for the offshore development of Newfoundland and Labrador.”
Until it is passed in the House of Commons, existing laws and interim principles for project reviews will continue to apply to projects under review.
The Impact Assessment Act will reflect what was heard from each of the groups who participated in the study over the past 14 months and includes input from Indigenous peoples, companies, provinces and territories, environmental groups and the public.
The project decisions would be guided by science, evidence and Indigenous traditional knowledge by having their respective voices heard from the start.
Companies would have more clarity about what is required of them and review timelines would be more predictable.
Project reviews would be both more rigorous and more efficient, with reduced legislated timelines and clearer requirements from the start.
A technical briefing (via teleconference) for the media preceded O’Regan’s news conference centred on the event taking place in Ottawa with departmental officials from the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, Natural Resources Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Transport Canada, and Environment and Climate Change Canada.
Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) informs Canadians about protecting and conserving natural heritage, and ensuring a clean, safe and sustainable environment for present and future generations.
McKenna and O’Regan both said the environmental assessment process was damaged to the point of no return by the former Conservative government.
“That last crowd really shagged it up,” O’Regan said.
“Approvals were based on politics, rather than robust science,” McKenna said.
This led to a lack of public trust that persists today, McKenna and O’Regan said.
The concerns are that changes were putting fish, waterways and communities at risk because assessments didn’t take into account the climate impacts of projects.