Thanks, but firing Energy East panelists won’t cut it

National Energy Board bows to public pressure to give the boot to panelists facing conflict charges over Energy East review, but that won't solve Trudeau's pipeline problem



It had to happen. And it did. 

The Calgary-based pipeline regulators at the National Energy Board (NEB) announced late Friday, September 8 that all three panel members reviewing TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline project “decided to recuse themselves in order to preserve the integrity of the National Energy Board and of the Energy East Review.” 

Calls to suspend the hearings into TransCanada’s plan to pipe some 1.1 million barrels a day from the Alberta oil sands to refineries on the east coast had been mounting ever since revelations that two of the panel members appointed by the former Harper government had a meeting with former Quebec premier Jean Charest while he was acting as a consultant for TransCanada in 2015. Tensions peaked when activists stormed the panel’s Montreal hearings August 29 after which the hearings were quickly suspended.

The NEB’s move throws into disarray TransCanada’s plan. While environmental groups opposed to the project say the decision vindicates their concerns of a conflict of interest in the matter, they say it’s the NEB’s pipeline review process itself that needs fixing.

And that won’t just mean hitting the reset button on the Energy East hearings to date. 

“That future panel will have to confront the question of what to do with all of the outgoing panel’s work up to now,” says Charles Hatt of Ecojustice. “The courts have said a proceeding tainted by a reasonable apprehension of bias is void and must start over from scratch.”

A day before the NEB’s decision, more than 50 groups from across Canada wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr urging the feds to stop all pipeline reviews until it can overhaul the NEB.

The Harper government carved up the NEB process back in 2012, trimming away regulatory hurdles, speeding up the environmental review process and limiting public input. The Libs vowed during the election to revamp the pipeline approval process but allowed pipelines already under review, including Energy East, to proceed under an interim process that’s received heavy flak from environmental groups. They say the government has stalled long enough on reforms.  

“Justin Trudeau and his cabinet can no longer ignore the disaster that is the ongoing review of pipeline projects,” says Stand.earth’s energy campaigner Sven Biggs. 

Greenpeace’s Keith Stewart tells NOW: “The federal government is trying to pretend that they can deal with pipelines in isolation from the rest of their agenda. [But] the NEB has been captured by the industry it’s supposed to regulate and isn’t equipped to deal with the commitments Trudeau has made on climate change and Indigenous reconciliation.”

Canada needs a new environmental assessment process, says Stewart. “Until these underlying problems are addressed, pushing pipeline approvals through Harper’s review process is just going to generate more opposition.” 

ecoholic@nowtoronto.com | @ecoholicnation

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