The federal Liberals are revealing little of how they intend to revamp the system to review new oil pipelines, a promise made during last year’s election.
Natural Resources Canada indicated it won’t short-circuit the National Energy Board review of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline twinning, which enters oral hearings next week and will be allowed to proceed to deliver a recommendation by a May 20 deadline.
“The National Energy Board is conducting a thorough, science-based review of the proposed project,” department spokesperson Micheline Joanisse told Black Press by email. “The Government of Canada will await the recommendation from the Board before making a decision, or making any further comments on the project.”
The federal response came after the B.C. government told the NEB that Kinder Morgan has not met the five conditions set out by the province.
Opponents of the $6.8-billion pipeline project had hoped the province’s stance would trigger more decisive federal action.
Prior to forming government, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had vowed to modernize the NEB to restore public trust to the process and Joanisse reiterated that pledge to introduce “credible and robust” enivronmental and regulatory reviews.
“Our plan will include a transition period for projects currently under review to provide some certainty through the modernization process,” she said. “No project proponent will be asked to return to square one.”
Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan said the federal Liberals suddenly seem to be taking a different tone on the project’s review now that they’re in power.
“When now-Prime Minister Trudeau was running he said this process wasn’t science-based, that it was in fact ignoring important environmental issues, that it wasn’t considering climate change,” Corrigan said.
“I don’t see how this government can be in Paris claiming to be part of an avant garde movement to try to deal with climate change worldwide and at the same time say that the National Energy Board, which is full of hacks from the oil industry, is doing a science-based review.”
Corrigan said the NEB process is fundamentally flawed and can’t be fixed with minor tweaks or some sort of secondary panel review to plug gaps in the first one.
The new government has inherited an NEB that includes several board members appointed or reappointed by the Conservatives in the dying days of their mandate.
Among them is Steven Kelly, a consultant who previously worked for Kinder Morgan preparing the economic case for Trans Mountain. He isn’t sitting on that review but his appointment in July, effective Oct. 13, led to a delay in the review while his evidence was replaced.
A new report from the NEB on a public engagement tour it conducted last year contains various pledges from the federal regulator to improve public trust in its work.
They include full public consultation on company emergency response plans – a contentious point in the Kinder Morgan review – and improved disclosure of information to the public, through an online pipeline incident map and NEB inspection reports. A regional office has also been opened in Vancouver.
It acknowledges environmental protection is is the public’s top priority, as well as pressure from local governments for more comprehensive and integrated emergency response preparations.
The NEB is having to rapidly adapt to a new era of intense public scrutiny, the report says, calling it a “perfect storm” of public expectations and opinions.