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New energy projects get two-year approval window under new assessment regime

Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna speaks during a news conference following meetings with provincial counterparts in Ottawa, Wednesday, February 22, 2017. The federal government is giving itself legal room to give carbon tax rebate cheques directly back to people in provinces that refuse to impose a carbon tax on their own. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Major new energy projects will have to be assessed and either approved or denied within two years under a massive new national assessment bill being introduced in the House of Commons.

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, who tabled the 341-page Impact Assessment Act, says it will provide clarity and certainty about how the process works, what companies need to do, and why and how decisions are made.

Major projects will continue to be evaluated by a federally appointed review panel, but that would happen in concert with bodies such as the Canadian Energy Regulator — the new name of the current National Energy Board.

Smaller projects that have fewer assessment requirements will need to be decided on within 300 days, instead of the current 450.

All projects will be assessed not just for environmental impacts, but also for impacts on health, the economy, social issues, gender and Indigenous rights.

While the last word will still largely reside with the federal cabinet, decisions will be made on whether a project is in the public interest by weighing the positives and negatives of a project against each other.