Conservatives gut key environmental law

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Ottawa – A Supreme Court of Canada decision requiring the federal government to fully assess the environmental effects of mining and other large industrial projects will be overturned by newly introduced budget legislation, says Ecojustice.

“The Conservative government is using the Budget Implementation Bill introduced today to continue its attack on the country’s most important environmental law,” says Ecojustice Executive Director Devon Page. “By giving the Environment Minister authority to overlook the Supreme Court’s decision on environmental assessment, government has fed Canadians another poison pill by allowing mines to be approved without looking at the totality of the pollution they cause. Likewise for tar sands developments, refineries and any other large industrial project.”   

On January 21st, Ecojustice set a groundbreaking precedent in the Supreme Court which ruled that the federal government was violating the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA) by limiting the assessment of the massive Red Chris Mine in British Columbia to a small component of the project while excluding the mine itself. The changes to CEAA tabled by the government today in the 2010 Budget Implementation Act turn the Supreme Court decision on its head by giving the Minister of the Environment express authority to limit assessments at his discretion.

“Why is the government using the cover of a budget bill to change the law when a parliamentary review of the law is scheduled to begin in two months?”, asked Ecojustice lawyer Stephen Hazel. “Not only does this jeopardize responsible environmental protection, it also circumvents the parliamentary process.”

This is the second consecutive year the Conservative government has brought forward a major change in environmental assessment by slipping it into the annual Budget Implementation Act. In 2009, amendments to the Navigable Waters Protection Act granted the Government a discretionary authority to identify what waterways were deemed worthy of federal protection.  Projects affecting those waterways that are declassified were excluded from environmental assessment. This year’s changes to CEAA go much further.

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