Imagine this: You're 16 years old again. You've never driven a car before and it's time to get your learner's permit. You head off to the government services building where a big sign proudly proclaims a "two hour service guarantee". The lineup is out the door, but you take a number and you start to wait. And you wait. You wait some more. After three hours, you have not taken your test, but an official walks up to you anyway, shakes your hand, and gives you a shiny new license. "Sorry for the wait," the official says. And suddenly, without any test or any review, you're allowed to drive.
Some people believe that if a government agency is forced to issue licences when it fails to meet service standards, then the agency will be more accountable. It is seen as a way to force slow-poke bureaucracies to keep pace with the modern world.
The approach is known as "deemed approvals" or "presumptive permitting". And it's hogwash.
Deemed approvals are at the top of most big anti-environmental lobbyists' wishlists. In order to make government more "accountable", lobbyists are encouraging governments to create mandatory timelines for decision-making. They are then encouraging government to invent "consequences" if these timelines are not met. A deemed approval is just such a consequence. It means if government fails to make a decision within specific period of time, the lack of a decision becomes a decision; and the outcome always favours industry.
We are seeing the push for deemed approvals in Canada. The Canadian government announced a new set of mandatory timelines for federal environmental assessments last week. Industry pushed for deemed approvals and environment officials pushed back. It was the right decision. The changes to the Canadian Environmental Assessment regulations will not include deemed approvals.
We are seeing the push for deemed approvals in the USA. In Wisconsin, for example, anti-environment lobbyists are having more success. Where Canada rejected presumptive permitting, Wisconsin lawmakers are considering it. They are looking at automatically approving permit applications if the Department of Natural Resources does not make a decision within a 20-day timeframe. The regulatory changes are expected to pass in the fall.
That an approach like deemed approvals would even be considered is a sign that environmentalism is staring a dark age in the eyes. No one has a right to pollute. And no government has an obligation to let it happen.
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