Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr has reiterated the federal government’s pledge to overhaul the National Energy Board in order to restore public confidence in Canada’s pipeline review process. But the promised legislative changes will not come quickly.
“You don't rush your way into decisions that affect not only today, but generationally in Canada in the new world of sustainably moving resources to market,” Carr said Monday while attending the federal cabinet’s retreat in New Brunswick.
Over the last month, the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs and Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan requested Carr and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau suspend the review of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline to avoid a decision being pushed through a process they claim is “deeply flawed.” Trans Mountain’s final hearings began as scheduled on January 19 in Burnaby, British Columbia.
“The minister is correct, we shouldn’t rush the creation of a new process,” Andrea Harden-Donahue, energy and climate justice campaigner with the Council of Canadians, said. “But continuing with the flawed Kinder Morgan and Energy East reviews is entirely inconsistent with Liberal promises. How can a 'transition strategy' rectify the failings around public participation and Indigenous consultation for these projects. I don't see how this can happen.”
“We are not saying pipeline companies have to go back to square one,” Harden-Donahue told DeSmog Canada. “All evidence submitted goes on hold and this can be supplemented with additional evidence after the changes are made.”
Trudeau’s government has been clear on several occasions pipeline projects currently under National Energy Board review will not be forced to go back to “square one,” that is, begin their application process completely from scratch.
The legislative changes during the Harper government’s 2012 omnibus bill frenzy severely weakened key pieces of environmental protection legislative like the Navigable Waters Protection Act and the Species At Risk Act. The National Energy Board Act and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act were also altered to ensure proposed pipelines made it through the regulatory process within 15-months, no matter how complex those projects may be.
“Some pipeline reviews may fall into that time limit. On the other hand, large projects with clear risks like Energy East or Kinder Morgan may not and this is problematic,” Harden-Donahue told DeSmog Canada.
There is little doubt the massive surge of public participation in the Northern Gateway pipeline hearings in B.C. served as the impetus for the Harper government to slap time limits on project reviews. With the exception of the Mackenzie Gas Project, the Board took less than 15 months to make its decisions on project applications between 2004 and 2012.
The controversial Northern Gateway proposal to pipe oilsands (also called tar sands) bitumen to B.C.’s northern coast drew records numbers of public participants for regulatory hearings and took four years to complete. The Board approved the project, albeit with over 200 conditions, in 2014.
By allowing pipeline reviews to proceed under the previous federal government’s rules, the Liberal government may be condemning projects to go back to ‘square one’ regardless. First Nations, and environmental organizations over the last four years have not been hesitant to take pipeline reviews to court over violations of ‘aboriginal’ rights or the freedom of expression.
In some cases, pipeline opponents are winning these legal battles, particularly those launched by First Nations.
Last week, the B.C. Supreme Court ruled in favour of coastal First Nations who argued in their case against Northern Gateway that the B.C. government fail to consult them about the pipeline proposal. The provincial government is now required to meaningfully consult coastal First Nations on the project, which many believe to be dead already.
Similar scenarios could play out for other pipeline projects.
The Board’s review of Trans Mountain faces a legal challenge by Tsleil-Waututh First Nation. Energy East has not come up against a legal case yet, but Treaty 3 First Nations in Ontario have vowed not to allow the pipeline to go through their territory without their free, prior and informed consent.
Line 9 pipeline, one of the first pipelines to be approved by the Board in the post-2012 omnibus bill era, is also being challenge by Deshkaan Ziibing (Chippewas of the Thames). The Ontario First Nation plans on taking their case all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Image Credit: Shannon Ramos via Flickr