Canada has decided to bypass the normal environmental regulations in order to speed up projects aimed at stimulating the economy, drawing the ire of activist groups.

  Jeffrey Jones for Reuters:

The move is aimed at streamlining approvals for C$12 billion ($9.4 billion) of public spending being planned to kick-start the country’s flagging economy, Environment Minister Jim Prentice said.

Word of the Conservative government’s policy, which also involves delegating some assessment decisions to the provinces, had already angered environmental groups. It comes into force immediately.

Prentice said decisions on which projects avoid vetting by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency will not be based on size or value.  “It’s more a question of, based on the considerable experience we now have in close to 10 years of applying CEAA legislation, whether there are classes or categories of projects which do not … have adverse environmental consequences,” Prentice told reporters after giving a speech to a business audience in Calgary. The federal cabinet will make those calls, he said.

Stephen Hazell, executive director of the environmental group Sierra Club Canada, said he did not necessarily disagree that some projects with little likely impact could be fast-tracked, but he criticized the lack of consultation invoking the regulation.  “The bosses in Ottawa can’t get it right all on their own, and this is what’s most disturbing to me,” Hazell said. “It seems like Minister Prentice doesn’t really have much regard for the various consultative mechanisms that have worked very, very well under Liberal and Conservative administrations,” Hazell said.

More likely, he has a stronger regard for getting his country’s economy back on track than for the nicities of the environmental regulatory process.  Desperate times, they say, call for desperate measures.   Lauren Krugel for The Canadian Press:

“The stimulus in our economic action plan is intended for rapid deployment. The infrastructure investments in particular must be built over the next two years as we face this economic crisis head on,” said Prentice.   […]  The new rules will “focus our resources” by cutting down on “unnecessary” environmental assessments for projects the government knows won’t have environmental consequences.  “Protecting the environment will continue to be a priority and environmental assessments that entail environmental risks will continue to be rigorous,” Prentice said in the speech.

This of course leads to the obvious question:  If the regulations in question are “unnecessary” and weighing down economic progress with little gain to the environment, why not permanently alter the process?

James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council.

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