The New Federal Impact Assessment Act: Implications for Canadian Energy Projects
Implementation of the new Impact Assessment Act regime is now underway, changing the process for federal assessment of energy projects. While the reformed regime resembles its predecessor in many ways, it also includes many changes, including new requirements with respect to climate change, the rights and interests of Indigenous peoples, sustainability, and economic considerations. Despite much criticism of the Impact Assessment Act in public and political realms, implications for energy projects, particularly in Alberta, remain not well understood. It has been unclear, for example, the extent to which the changed federal process will actually affect whether a project is approved or not. This article provides an overview of the new federal regime and examines what it may mean in practical terms for energy projects, with an emphasis on the Alberta context. Particular focus is devoted to changes from the previous federal regime, chiefly with respect to the assessment and final decision-making phases. Overall, the analysis indicates that for the small number of projects that trigger application of the regime, the assessment process is likely to be more onerous but unlikely to result in fewer project approvals. Rather, the new process still provides significant latitude and discretion that will likely see most projects approved, and the more robust assessment process may translate into broader public support.
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