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Environmental group says new federal water protections are a big deal

Click to play video 'Federal government announces major new review process for energy projects' Federal government announces major new review process for energy projects
ABOVE: Environment Minister Catherine McKenna announced Thursday that energy projects will have to be assessed and either approved or denied within two years under a new national assessment bill – Feb 8, 2018

An environmental group with a strong presence in B.C. is hailing the federal government’s announcement of new protections for Canadian waterways.

If passed, the Impact Assessment Act would require major new energy projects to be assessed and either approved or denied in two years, and address concerns that changes to the environmental assessment process under the previous government was “putting our fish, our waterways and our communities at risk,” Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said Thursday.

Water campaigner Eric Reder with the Wilderness Committee said the restoration of water protections is a big deal for the group.

“Bringing it to protect all waterways in Canada – that’s a really important step for Canadians,” he said.

“Water is so important across all the provinces.”

Reder said current legislation only protects a specific list of lakes and rivers.

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READ MORE: Feds will get 2 years to OK new energy projects under new impact assessment rules

He added they understand the Canadian Energy Regulator (CER), the re-named National Energy Board (NEB), would represent a complete overhaul and not just a new name.

“They were going to make it a more independent agency so that we would get better decision-making from them,” Reder said.

The Impact Assessment Act would replace the existing Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.

McKenna said it will provide clarity and certainty about how the process works, what companies need to do and why and how decisions are made.

READ MORE: Ottawa pledges $284 million to expand protections for fish habitats

She said the overhaul is well past due, and thousands of jobs are at stake.

“But we can not get there without better rules to guide our decisions about resource development. Unfortunately, the Harper government gutted environmental protections and made changes to the environmental process that eroded public trust in how decisions are made,” she said.

Environment minister George Heyman is also welcoming Ottawa’s new approach to assessing energy projects.

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“We’re examining it but at first glance it looks like what they’re proposing in many ways replicates the practice that we’ve been following in B.C. recently,” he said.

“We will be doing a review of our environmental assessment process. We intend to work closely and harmonize in many ways with the federal process to avoid redundancies.”

Major projects will still be evaluated by a federally-appointed review panel, but that would happen in concert with bodies like the new CER.

All projects will be assessed not only for their environmental effects, but also for economic, health and social aspects, as well as any impacts on Indigenous rights.

Final word on approval will still largely reside with the federal government.

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