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Energy ministers promise fewer energy sector rules

Federal and territorial officials are planning to tap industry to streamline energy-sector regulations.

Federal and territorial officials are planning to tap industry to streamline energy-sector regulations.

 “Canada is emerging as an energy superpower,” said Gary Lunn, federal minister of Natural Resources, who visited Whitehorse this week to chair his first meeting of Canada’s regional energy ministers since the Conservative government took power in Ottawa in January.

“There was a healthy and vigorous discussion at the table today, and we made a commitment to go back and see if we could even look for projects where we could work collectively, together, to eliminate overlap between the provinces and the territory and the federal government,” said Lunn.

“I look forward to finding greater efficiencies to ensure that these projects can move forward in a timely fashion.”

Lunn, a British Columbia lawyer and active member of the Knights of Columbus, was hosted by Yukon Energy, Mines and Resources minister Archie Lang, who is seeking re-election this fall.

“Ministers agreed that our ongoing collaboration efforts should continue to focus on technology, increased energy efficiency and improving efficiency of regulatory processes,” said Lang.

“We all agreed that reducing environmental impacts on water, air, climate and habitat from energy development, production and use is very, very important.”

The ministers agreed to “work with industry on energy awareness initiatives” and develop a regulatory process that “protects the public interest while providing some degree of certainty to investors with respect to timing and, of course, costs,” he said.

The 2005 Yukon Placer Mining Authorization is exactly the kind of process that ministers want to clone across the country, said Lang.

“The territorial government, First Nations, DFO and the federal government and industry went to work and solved some issues internally,” he said.

“If we hadn’t had that co-operation, there would not be placer mining in the Yukon today.”

The placer authorization was drafted with direct input from industry players like the Yukon Chamber of Mines.

But environmental groups, like the Yukon Conservation Society, said they were informed of the outcomes, and not offered the same power of consultation granted to industry.

However, the close involvement between industry players and policymakers in Ottawa is not cause for concern, said Brendan Bell, energy minister for the Northwest Territories.

“When we talk about streamlining processes, we’re talking about trying to eliminate duplication,” said Bell.

“Nobody is suggesting that we water down environmental standards.”

In the past, Ottawa has been more of an impediment to resource development than anything else, he said.

“It’s possible that we could nominate some projects that would be candidates for a single-window (regulatory) approach.

“I would go one step further. In terms of environmental assessments we should also be talking about defined timeframes for seeing resolution of these environmental assessment issues, and also permitting and licensing.

“Certainly, industry has some expectation to have some certainty, and that go or no-go decisions will happen at a certain point.

“And I also think residents of our areas really need to know, because they are trying to build capacity to take advantage of this new economy.”

All three men promised efficient but stringent environmental regulations for projects like the proposed Mackenzie Valley natural gas pipeline.

“I don’t think it’s healthy to have a regulatory process where there is overlap,” said Lunn.

“Sometimes, when you have regulatory processes that seem to go on and on and on, it doesn’t necessarily get you a better result.

“I think an efficient approval process will more often than not give you a much stronger result at the end of the day.

“The pipeline project in the Mackenzie Valley is in the process now. That’s happening now.

“The federal government would like to see these projects go forward as quickly as possible.”

But Ottawa still does not have a climate-change plan.

“As you are fully aware, there’s a commitment that we will be bringing forward, our plan on the environment, in the fall, so you’ll have to wait for that,” said Lunn.

He would not say if the Conservative government’s soon-to-be-released plan will meet Canada’s obligations to the international Kyoto Protocol for the reduction of greenhouse gases.

But Lunn did promise that technological advances, such as clean coal technology, would provide cleaner energy sources.

For example, recent upgrades to machines used in fossil fuel projects of northern Alberta have removed some sulphur emissions, he said.

Lunn announced a plan to split the cost of technological research, development and implementation evenly between federal and regional governments and industry players.

He did not make a dollar commitment.

Nevertheless, “this is an enormous step to be sure that we share technology and that we get the best technology to deliver clean energy to Canadians,” said Lunn.