Govts to cut green tape on important construction projects

The moves could well be food for thought for their Australian equivalents. In Canada, a proposed revision of environmental law will mean that federally-funded public infrastructure projects will face fewer duplicated environmental assessments at the national, provincial and municipal levels.The country’s Environment Minister Jim Prentice said the change streamlines the review process and will speed up projects, but green groups worry it will miss the environmental impacts these new projects may cause.In January, the government allocated $12 billion Canadian dollars ($14.32 billion) in infrastructure spending. “The stimulus in our economic action plan is intended for rapid deployment,” Prentice told the Canadian Press news agency. “The infrastructure investments in particular must be built over the next two years as we face this economic crisis head on.” According to the government, the rules that took force this week will eliminate 90% of the reviews done at federal level, and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency will instead rely on provincial assessments for each project to grant approvals.“We will also avoid duplication with provincial and municipal processes and the end result will be projects that begin much sooner, creating much-needed jobs more quickly,” he said.Prentice said the changes will “focus our resources” and eliminate “unnecessary” environmental assessments on projects the government knows won’t have environmental consequences.But dismayed environmental groups, which had already been calling for stronger environmental reviews for projects, said fast-tracking and minimising environmental assessment processes opens up risks.“You really have to question whether you’re getting the appropriate and the correct environmental information to measure a project’s true impact,” said Lindsay Telfer, director of the Sierra Club of Canada’s Prairie chapter.In New Zealand, the new conservative government has proposed some 100 changes to the country’s main environmental protection law, the 17-year-old Resource Management Act (RMA).The New Zealand government said it was seeking to cut back on the approvals processes hampering development. While the changes include imposing a nine-month deadline on decisions on major projects – where there formerly was no deadline – compliance rules have tightened and fines are stiffer.New Zealand Prime Minister John Key last month called the existing law a source of “huge frustration”.“[The] RMA has been a handbrake on growth. It has led to uncertainty around developments and stalled projects, including those of national importance,” Key said on his website. “We need to unlock that lost growth potential and untangle the red tape suffocating everyone from homeowners to businesses. “These reforms are long overdue, and the current economic climate adds fresh urgency to the changes. “We need to remove the barriers that stand in the way of improving New Zealand’s infrastructure and the creation of new industries and jobs.”Projects of “national significance” would be put before a new Environmental Protection Authority, which will have – for important infrastructure projects – nine months to tie up the decision on whether or not it can go ahead.“The nine-month requirement for a decision will ensure that we can get that key electricity, transport and other infrastructure built more quickly,” Environment Minister Nick Smith said.He added that lengthy appeals processes have in the past blocked developments for prolonged periods, some up to 15 years. He said the proposed changes would seek to curb any so-called vexatious or frivolous objections, while those who attempt to abuse the process – such as companies raising objections to keep competitors from being granted permits – face the prospect of having to pay significant costs.Green groups and the opposition have criticised the proposed changes.“We won’t tolerate moves to steamroll community rights and environmental safeguards under the misnomer ‘streamline’ and we intend to scrutinise the proposed legislation in this regard,” Labour Party leader Phil Goff said.“The reforms are a result of a confidence and supply agreement between National and [the right-wing ACT Party] to form the minority government,” Labour Party environment spokeswoman Nanaia Mahuta said. “Both these parties have a history of trying to ram through pet projects for their developer mates with scant regard for the public good.” Greenpeace spokesman Geoff Keey said that weakening New Zealand’s environmental laws would tarnish the country’s “clean green brand image” which its tourism and food production industries depended on even more at a time of economic crisis.

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