OTTAWA - The federal government has submerged its multi-faceted plan to overhaul environmental protections in a much broader piece of legislation.

The major changes to environmental and pipeline policy now are part of an omnibus budget bill -- mixed in with myriad changes to tax policy and other fiscal matters.

The budget bill, tabled Thursday, repeals the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act, officially pulling Canada out of the global agreement on greenhouse gas emissions.

It also contains fundamental changes to a number of pieces of legislation dealing with the environmental assessment process.

The bill sets timelines for assessment hearings, allows Ottawa to hand off assessments to the provinces and consolidates the process in three government agencies.

It also gives federal cabinet the final say over oil and gas pipelines -- a controversial measure that worries environmentalists.

And it overhauls the Fisheries Act to focus only on major waterways, not every single body of water.

At the same time, the bill sets out stiffer fines for industry players who break environmental regulations and laws.

And it cracks down on charities involved in political activity -- a move some non-governmental environment organizations interpret as an attack on their activities.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said he wanted to roll a wide array of policy changes into the budget bill so that it would quickly get through Parliament and into law.

"These are long-term changes," he told reporters after tabling the bill in the House of Commons. "Some of them are quite important. We need to get them done quickly."

But critics say such fundamental changes to environmental policy need separate treatment so that parliamentarians can bring in experts and scrutinize the implications.

"It is an affront to democracy to bury such far-reaching changes to laws Canadians depend upon to help protect our environment in the budget implementation bill in order to avoid public scrutiny," Greenpeace spokesman Keith Stewart wrote in an email.

"Changing the rules to favour the oil industry will only fuel the growing opposition to projects like Enbridge's proposed tar sands pipeline through British Columbia."

It's not the first time the Conservative government has altered environmental policy in such an omnibus bill. In 2009, it changed the Navigable Waters Protection Act to reduce oversight of minor waterways.

And in 2010, a budget bill revised parts of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act to streamline hearings.

Those changes were made during the Conservative minority and their inclusion in the omnibus legislation helped ensure their passage.

Environmentalists argue that this round of changes is far more pervasive. And since the Conservatives have a majority, they do not need to worry about opposition members outvoting them.

Still, government ministers have been highlighting the changes for months, and public debate has been vibrant.

Oil, gas and mining interests, as well as some provincial governments, have praised Ottawa for eliminating duplication in the environmental assessment process and creating a more efficient arrangement.

But First Nations are deeply concerned about being left out of the new procedures, despite legal obligations on the government to thoroughly consult First Nations on such changes.

"It is an alarming development that Canada would take such steps," Shawn Atleo, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, wrote in a recent letter to Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver.