Federal budget would simplify environmental review process

The federal government answered years of oilpatch lobbying Thursday by promising in its budget to streamline environmental review of major industrial projects and impose hard timelines on decisions.

The Northern Gateway export pipeline that would move oilsands bitumen to Kitimat, B.C. will be subject to the changes, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty was quoted by various media as saying in Ottawa, though he and his officials gave no details on how a review long underway could be condensed.

Northern Gateway, embraced by industry but derided by environmental groups, is fast approaching the 24-month fixed timeline for panel reviews mandated by the budget. Enbridge Inc. applied with the federal Joint Review Panel in May 2010 for approval of the 1,200-kilometre pipeline from Bruderheim, Alta., meant to open international markets to rising crude production that's largely landlocked.

Enbridge Northern Gateway spokesman Paul Stanway said the Harper government's socalled one project, one review commitment "makes perfect sense," but declined in an emailed statement to comment in detail, pending forthcoming legislation arising from the budget.