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Budget speeds up approval of big energy projects

minepit
Tags: Budget 2012
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The Harper government is speeding up environmental reviews of major resource projects, including the controversial Northern Gateway pipeline that will bring oil sands bitumen to Kitimat, B.C., for export to Asia.

In his budget Thursday, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty also announced that Revenue Canada will crack down on environmental charities that engage in political advocacy.

In a news conference, Flaherty said the government was responding to complaints that environmental groups may be abusing their charitable status, in part by accepting foreign donations for campaigns that oppose pipeline construction and oil sands development.

The government has focused on development of Canada's energy and mineral resources that have the potential to create more growth and jobs over the next several decades.

It estimates there are more than 500 projects representing $500 billion in investment planned over the next decade. But in the budget plan, the Tories said corporations that want to invest are facing an "increasingly complex web of rules and bureaucratic reviews that have grown over time."

Ottawa is particularly concerned about expanding oil and gas exports to Asia, and has expressed frustration with the lengthy hearing being conducted by a review panel.

The budget laid out new time limits for such reviews, saying panel hearings should take no more than 24 months. Federal officials say the current Gateway review has been underway for 50 months and isn't scheduled to conclude until the fall of 2013.

"The new time lines will apply" to the Gateway project, Flaherty confirmed, though officials offered no details on how the process will be shortened.

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver has spearheaded Ottawa's effort to overhaul the review process, while at the same time, vilifying some environmental groups as foreign-funded radicals that are undermining Canada's economic interests.

To streamline that permitting process, Ottawa will introduce legislation to impose strict timelines for approving major projects and allow the federal government to delegate specific project reviews to provinces.

Opposition MPs have warned that the Harper government is intent on gutting existing safeguards in order to rubber-stamp approvals for heavily-polluting oil and mining projects that pose health and environmental risks.

However, Flaherty said resource development does not have to come at the cost of environmental degradation.

"We will implement responsible resource development and smart regulation for major economic projects, respecting provincial jurisdiction and maintaining the highest standards of environmental protection," he said in his budget speech.

The Minister also announced Canada Revenue Agency will step up enforcement of the Income Tax Act to ensure charitable groups don't spend more than 10 percent of their revenues on political activity.

While the budget doesn't single out environmental groups, it does say that "concerns have been raised that some charities may not be respecting the rules." Those concerns have largely been raised by pro-oil industry groups and Conservative MPs and Senators who have slammed the use of foreign donations to oppose oil sands development.

It will also require charities to spell out the amount of foreign donations used to finance advocacy campaigns.

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