UPDATE 1-Canadian Senate committee passes 187 amendments to energy project bill

CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) – A Canadian Senate committee has passed 187 amendments to an energy bill proposed by the Liberal government that would change how major projects like oil export pipelines are assessed. The unusually high number of amendments, approved late on Thursday, was welcomed by oil companies and the premier of Canada’s main crude-producing province, Alberta. But environmental groups warned the changes represent a step backwards in Canada’s commitment to tackling climate change. Bill C-69 will now go back to the Senate, which will vote on the amendments, and then to the House of Commons for final approval, where the government can accept, reject or further amend the legislation. “The oil and gas industry has won a huge victory with these amendments,” said Joshua Ginsberg, lawyer for environmental group Ecojustice, who said the number of amendments was “unprecedented.” The bill proposes sweeping changes in how major projects are assessed in Canada, building on an election pledge from Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to streamline and restore trust in the environmental approvals process. The bill in its original form was fiercely opposed by the oil industry, and environmentalists dislike the proposed changes. Critics in the energy industry said the original bill would deter investment in the oil and gas sector by creating uncertainty and giving too much power to the federal government by allowing ministers to veto projects. “Amendments put forward by the Conservative Senate caucus reduce the opportunities for political interference, and provide greater certainty for energy companies as they plan future developments,” the opposition Conservative Party said in a statement from the Senate. The amendments come a day after another Senate committee recommended the federal government scrap a proposed bill that would ban oil tankers from docking along British Columbia’s northern coast. Canada’s energy industry has campaigned to have both bills amended or pulled altogether. “We’ve said all along that this legislation must allow our industry to remain competitive and not stand in the way of improved market access for Canada’s oil and natural gas resources,” said Sonja Franklin, spokeswoman for Cenovus Energy Inc. “At first glance, it looks like many of the amendments are in line with positions that are important to Cenovus and our industry.” A spokeswoman for the Minister of Environment and Climate Change said the government is open to amendments that strengthen and improve the bill. “It is critical to rebuild trust in how we review major projects, and this legislation is an opportunity to get this right,” said spokeswoman Sabrina Kim.

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