Infrastructure Program no excuse to gut Environmental Assessment Laws

Media release from Sierra Club Canada:

January 14, 2009 – Federal laws ensuring development projects are environmentally sustainable must not be gutted in a rush to get shovels in the ground, says Sierra Club Canada.

“Shovel-ready must include environment-friendly.  Under the guise of advancing an infrastructure program, however, Stephen Harper and Jim Prentice are preparing to dismantle critical environmental assessment laws,” said Stephen Hazell, executive director of Sierra Club Canada.  “The Canadian Environmental Assessment Act was passed in 1992 by Brian Mulroney’s Conservative government in order to ensure that federal decisions about development projects are based on sound information about possible adverse environmental effects. ”

The Conservative government has recently proposed changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act that would eliminate environmental assessments of some projects (such as dams and bridges) that both interfere with navigation rights and disrupt wild streams and rivers.  Moreover, the government signaled yesterday that federal projects valued under $10 million would be excluded by regulation from federal environmental assessment as part of the legislative package supporting the federal budget.

“Mulroney’s Conservatives and the subsequent Liberal government of Jean Chretien both rejected the idea of using project cost as a regulatory test to exclude projects from environmental assessment.  It was a dumb idea then and it’s a dumb idea now.  The environmental impacts of some small projects can be worse than those of some huge projects,” Hazell said.  Hazell served as director of legislative and regulatory affairs in the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency under both administrations.

“Transport Minister John Baird’s claim that the current government is simply reducing overlap and duplication in environmental assessment is simply not true.  Federal and provincial environmental assessment activities are by and large well-coordinated.  The truth is that the government is taking advantage of Canadians’ anxiety about economic deterioration to push through an infrastructure program that is agreeable to the oil and gas, automobile, construction and mining industries, but very likely bad for the environment.”

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