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Trudeau’s NEB Energy East review process derails

Council of Canadians Board member and chapter activist Abdul Pirani (wearing a white cap) at the protest outside the NEB hearing in Montreal, August 29.

The Council of Canadians is one of fifty groups that signed a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau calling on him to stop all pipeline reviews.

The Canadian Press reports, “The current federal review process of energy projects needs to be shut down and overhauled immediately, say more than 50 environmental and activist groups in a letter sent to the prime minister. No pipeline projects should go forward until Trudeau reforms the National Energy Board (NEB), says the letter, which was also addressed to Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr. That means the current review of the Energy East pipeline proposal for Eastern Canada and the NEB’s decision to accept the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline in Alberta and British Columbia need to be annulled, they argue.”

The article adds, “The activists say the NEB board members are in a conflict of interest and that First Nations communities are not being properly consulted. Moreover, they argue the review process doesn’t properly explain to citizens how Canada can build pipelines and expand Alberta oilsands production while also respecting the country’s greenhouse emission targets.”

The CBC’s national affairs editor Chris Hall comments, “When the NEB began its review of the proposed Energy East pipeline, it sent out a news release touting the process as ‘one of the most innovative’ in the NEB’s history. …A month into the public hearings, innovative isn’t the word anyone’s using to capture what’s been going on. Fiasco might be better. Or, to quote Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, a ‘circus’. …By now most Canadians following the issue know that two of the three panel members reviewing the project stand accused of conflict of interest.”

And he highlights, “It’s becoming increasingly clear that those hearings won’t resume for some time, if at all. …The NEB says the decision is up to the two panellists themselves. To critics, that’s a big part of the problem. Allowing those accused of a conflict of interest to decide whether they believe they can hear the evidence impartially is hardly what Trudeau had in mind when he talked about restoring credibility to the process. …[He] needs to show that at least one of these pipelines can meet the dual test of being good for the economy without being harmful to the environment. And for Energy East, that could very well mean starting over — for the good of the Liberals’ political agenda.”

Weeks ago, The Globe and Mail’s chief political writer Campbell Clark noted, “[Trudeau] promised he’d make pipeline reviews more credible, to ensure promoters obtain the required ‘social licence’. …The NEB’s missteps have raised questions anew. …Unless the two panelist step aside, the credibility he promised will be in tatters before Energy East hearings even get off the ground in Quebec.”

The NEB Energy East hearings began on August 8 in Saint John, but were put on hold by August 29 in Montreal. The NEB had set September 7 as a deadline for public comment on the matter of the recusal of the two commissioners. It is not known if or when these hearings will resume, but the next session had been scheduled to start on October 3 in Quebec City. The Financial Post has speculated that if the commissioners do not resign, the matter could land before the Federal Court of Appeal (given two notices of motion and the charge that NEB rules have been broken).

The NEB had proposed to make their recommendation on the Energy East pipeline by March 2018 and to have the federal government make its decision by June 2018. This is now a far from certain timeline.

On May 19, 2015, the NEB recommended the federal government approve the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline. The federal government has indicated that it will make its decision on that pipeline by December 19 of this year. The speculation is that Trudeau will approve this pipeline, which is highly problematic for the reasons we note in the letter above. There are also concerns that if Trudeau says no to Trans Mountain, given the pressure for him to approve a pipeline, it means there is a greater chance he would approve the Energy East pipeline.

And there is corporate pressure to get these pipelines built.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (which represents the Big Oil transnationals) says that new pipelines need to be operational in this country by 2020 given increased oil production. CAPP says, “Canada’s pipeline network has capacity to move about 4 million barrels per day, which closely matched the 2015 average supply of 3.981 million barrels per day. More than 850,000 additional barrels per day of oil sands supply will be available by 2021.”

The Council of Canadians has backed the Leap Manifesto demands for no new infrastructure projects that lock us into increased extraction decades into the future, respect for the inherent rights and title of the original caretakers of this land, and a 100 per cent clean energy economy by 2050.