(Washington) At first glance, the reform of the energy project approval process in the United States does not seem to be a very major subject, but it has still been one of the crucial points in Washington throughout the saga of raising the debt ceiling.
And on Tuesday, Canada added its own grain of salt to this issue.
Several economic industry leaders say it is essential that Ottawa, which in April argued for having a more efficient regime than its neighbor, keeps pace with the United States, where a new sweeping overhaul of the process of granting of permits could soon see the light of day.
“It’s clearly a marathon that has become a sprint,” said Andrew McLaughlin, who is a lawyer and vice president of legal affairs at Major Drilling, a multinational mining services company in Moncton, New Brunswick.
“As we enter a new economic era, I think we need to up our game,” he said.
The Fiscal Responsibility Act, the fruit of tense negotiations between congressional Republicans and the White House, would overhaul the environmental review process for new projects in the United States.
In particular, a central monitoring agency would be set up to avoid double checks of the current system and reduce the maximum time to two years before a decision is made.
Canada must follow that lead, says former diplomat Louise Blais, who is now special adviser on U.S. and international policies at the Business Council of Canada.
“In my opinion, with this new bill, Canada should really recognize the urgency of the situation. »
The objective is not to give free rein to the natural resource exploitation sector, she adds, but rather to make the transition to green energy more effective, in a world where the fight against climate change climate is becoming an ever more pressing issue.
“Nobody feels like it’s moving fast enough. We hear promises, but we don’t see concrete actions,” laments Ms. Blais.
“Right now, if you’re looking to invest, you’re going to think that the United States has understood that, at least a little more, because the discussions are much more concrete than what we hear in Canada. »
However, the US bill is still far from having the force of law, since it depends on negotiations concerning the raising of the debt ceiling. Although an agreement has been reached on this subject between President Joe Biden and Speaker of the House of Representatives Kevin McCarthy, heated discussions are still taking place in Congress.
Mr McLaughlin, the lawyer for Major Drilling, would like to see the mining of critical minerals like copper, lithium and nickel designated as a “strategic industry”. This classification would accelerate its development, while bringing together environmental rules, First Nations and sustainable development standards under a single entity.
“The countries that will succeed are those that will be able to unite all these actors around a single goal,” he argues.
In Canada, where approval of a new mine can take up to 12 or 15 years, the federal government has already promised to present a “concrete” plan to make environmental impact assessments more effective by the end of the year.
But he could well have the rug pulled from under him, since two senior officials who are key players in this process will leave their posts in the coming weeks.
For example, the Clerk of the Privy Council, Janice Charette, will be retiring at the end of June. The government announced it in a press release on Tuesday.
She will be replaced by John Hannaford, a former diplomat and senior civil servant who currently serves as Deputy Minister of Natural Resources.
Still, Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson promised on Tuesday that the new approvals process would not compromise on environmental assessment.
“We committed in the budget to introduce a new process by the end of the year, and that is certainly our goal,” he reiterated.
“We need to find ways to do things better and do it as efficiently as possible. But we are not looking to save money from an environmental point of view,” he said.