Massive resource-development programs in B.C. — including the Northern Gateway pipeline — will soon be subject to a simplified environmental-approval process that could see the projects breaking ground within two years.

The controversial announcement was part of Thursday’s federal budget release in Ottawa.

“We are in no way undermining the integrity of the regulatory process. The key here is to make the process more efficient,” said Ed Fast, Abbotsford MP and minister of international trade.

The new standards will require environmental regulators to complete a single approval process over a maximum period of 24 months. Currently, companies have to wait up to six years before breaking ground on new projects.

“We’ve been looking for one process for one project for many years,” said Iain Black, Vancouver Board of Trade chief executive. “This has been one of the greatest inhibitors to investment in our province.”

But some environmentalists believe the streamlined process is designed to benefit oil-export projects such as the Enbridge Northern Gateway and Kinder Morgan TransMountain pipeline projects.

“If I was a lobbyist for big oil, and I had a laundry list for helping to get my project approved, I would be walking away from this budget with a big smile on my face,” said Ben West, spokesman for the Wilderness Committee.

Libby Davies, NDP deputy leader and Vancouver East MP, said the new process will hinder community consultation for development projects.

“This is a government that is driven to basically give a green light to the huge organizations that want to go ahead with developments,” she said.

“You have to have a properly grounded environmental assessment where people can be heard. If you limit people’s ability to be heard, that’s a fundamental problem, especially in a province like B.C.”