Melancthon Quarry in Canada’s Resource Based Economy

My earlier articles about the proposed Melancthon mega-quarry continue to draw reader interest. I’ve been curious about the status of this project since the provincial government ordered a full environmental assessment. An article published online at the time provides some insight to the next steps:

“The first step in the environmental assessment is for the company to prepare a draft outlining the terms of reference. [An environment ministry spokesperson] says environmental assessments are proponent driven. That means it’s the proponent that does the studies, some consultations, and all required work. The specific studies and other necessary reports the company must provide are set out in the Environmental Assessment Act. All material is submitted to the environment ministry for review and public consultation.

In the case of the terms of reference, once the environment ministry receives those it puts them out for public review and comment … noting they need to approve the terms of reference before Highland can proceed to the next step.

As for Highland’s application to the Ministry of Natural Resources for a quarry license under the Aggregate Resources Act, … the company can do the work for that application at the same time it completes the environmental assessment. But the company needs to get environmental assessment approval before getting its quarry license.”

(Environmental assessment ordered for Melancthon quarry, Agmedia, Sept 8, 2011)

The recent federal budget raises more questions about how this project will proceed under the Harper plan to focus the Canadian economy on resource extraction for export, the source of the greatest employment income growth lately thanks mostly to oil extraction in the western provinces. This will be facilitated by ‘simplifying’ environmental reviews. The budget proposes to mandate one environmental assessment, federal or provincial, but not both. An assessment would be restricted to a one-year time limit.

Last November, “Environment Minister, Peter Kent said the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency had discussed the (Melancthon quarry) project with other federal departments, and decided not to act on an environmental assessment” , according to an article published by the Council of Canadians, and refused to act on a request from the Dufferin-Caledon Conservative MP to conduct an environmental assessment. A press report cited in the same article noted that “The federal government will slash funding to the environmental agency that evaluates potentially harmful policies and projects before they get the green light. …The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency is looking at a 43.1 per cent cut in spending, dropping from $30 million in 2011-12 to $17.1 million in 2012-13, according to the agency’s planning documents. This cut follows a 6.9 per cent, or $2.2-million, drop in the funds government allocated to the agency in 2010-11.”

Could the new federal rules set the stage for the federal government to over-ride a provincial environmental assessment and fast-track a time-limited review of the Melancthon quarry by an under-funded and under-staffed agency? The Globe and Mail quoted Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver at the end of November, 2011 saying, “Ottawa is planning to overhaul the country’s environmental assessment process to ensure major energy and mining projects aren’t jeopardized by unnecessary delays”. Concurrently, the federal government has dropped all reference to “sustainable development” replacing it with the term, “responsible development”.

(Federal budget branding to emphasize ‘responsible development’ of resources, Winnipeg Free Press, March 27, 2012)