It’s the latest in a long line of efforts by the Harper Government to dismantle Canada’s environmental laws in order to facilitate energy development. In a memorandum of understanding between the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the National Energy Board – quietly released just before Christmas – DFO relinquished much of its oversight of fish habitat in pipeline corridors.
The decision means that Enbridge and Kinder Morgan – which formally filed its own pipeline application on December 16, the same day the NEB memo was made public – will no longer need to obtain permits from DFO to alter habitat for their projects. “Fish and fish habitat along those pipelines is now the responsibility of the Alberta-based, energy friendly National Energy Board,” notes Robin Rowland of Northwest Energy News, who broke the story yesterday.
NEB takes point on fisheries, species at risk
Under the terms of the agreement, the NEB becomes the lead agency in determining issues that relate to the Species at Risk Act or the Fisheries Act and, only involving DFO should they deem it necessary:
[quote]The NEB will assess a project application and determine if mitigation strategies are needed to reduce or prevent impacts to fish or fish habitat. If the project could result in serious harm for fish then the NEB will inform DFO that a Fisheries Act authorization under paragraph 35(2)(b) is likely to be required. DFO will review and issue an authorization when appropriate, prior to project construction. Authorizations issued by DFO would relate to those watercourses impacted, not the entire project.
This MOU better integrates the Government of Canada’s initiative to streamline application processes by eliminating the requirement for duplicate reviews.[/quote]
Asks Rowland, “Just how much expertise, if any, in fisheries and fish habitat can be found in the Calgary offices of the National Energy Board?”
First Nations consultation impacted
The memo – particularly the following passage – is likely also to provoke legal challenges from First Nations over the dimishing of their constitutional rights to consultation and accommodation:
[quote]When the Crown contemplates conduct that may adversely affect established or potential Aboriginal and treaty rights in relation to the issuance of authorizations under the Fisheries Act, and/or permits under SARA, the NEB application assessment process will be relied upon by DFO to the extent possible, to ensure Aboriginal groups are consulted as required, and where appropriate accommodated[/quote]
The move hardly comes as a surprise, given the gutting of the Fisheries Act, Navigable Waters Protection Act, and many other longstanding Canadian environmental laws in order to push forward the Conservative energy policy. Yet it is sure to provoke a serious backlash amongst British Columbians and First Nations as the ramifications of this quiet deal sink in.