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Strike down federal changes or risk disasters, green groups warn

Proposed changes to Canada’s environmental safeguards are “regressive” and “undemocratic”, warned sixteen green organizations today in a letter to the federal government.

And if approved, one spokesperson told the Tyee, they could result in the same types of mistakes that led to Louisiana’s oil slick disaster.

“There’s a huge scope for environmental damage,” said Josh Paterson, a lawyer with West Coast Environmental Law.

Last March, Stephen Harper’s Conservative government introduced several revisions to Canada’s Environmental Assessment Act. The Act makes sure impacts from development projects are carefully analyzed before construction begins.

New changes would give the environment minister power to reduce the scope of federal assessments, and in some cases, exempt projects altogether.

Another revision would transfer oversight of energy and pipeline projects to federal entities with less assessment experience.

The revisions were appended to a budget implementation bill, so opposition MPs couldn’t vote them down without triggering an unwanted election. They also came only months before a mandated review of the Assessment Act takes place this June.

“Any one of these changes, proposed to be made without any public or stakeholder consultation, would represent a significant setback for sustainability and environmental protection,” reads today’s letter, signed by groups such as MiningWatch Canada and the David Suzuki Foundation. “Combined together, they set environmental assessment practice back many years.”

Several signatory reps will speak to the federal Standing Committee on Finance tomorrow. They’ll attempt to convince MPs to push for legislation that removes the revisions.

It’s recently come to light that the U.S. interior department exempted BP’s Deepwater Horizon project from an environmental impact study. Now a giant oil-slick threatens to devastate the Louisiana coastline. Paterson drew parallels to Canada.

“This is what happens when you have political interference with what should be an objective process,” he said.

Geoff Dembicki reports for the Tyee.

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