The National Energy Board (NEB) has, without fanfare, identified the panelist who will oversee renewed consideration of TransCanada Corporation’s Energy East pipeline proposal. David Hamilton, appointed to the national fossil energy regulator in the dying days of the Harper government, must now find two other panelists to hear the Calgary company’s application.
The previous panel considering the $18-billion undertaking recused itself earlier this year after disclosures that it had met privately with a TransCanada lobbyist, former Quebec Premier Jean Charest, in contravention of conflict-of-interest guidelines. The Board also beat a shambolic retreat from its first day of planned public hearings on the project in Montreal in the face of a small demonstration.
Hamilton last served as chair of the panel that recommended approval of Texas-based Kinder Morgan’s deeply controversial proposed expansion of its Trans Mountain pipeline from Edmonton to Vancouver as being “in the public interest.” A review of that decision found serious gaps that contributed to substantial public distrust of the NEB. Yesterday, the federal government nonetheless accepted the Board’s recommendation and approved the pipeline for construction.
Technically, Hamilton’s membership on the NEB is “temporary,” Le Devoir reports, but was renewed by Harper “just before the election of Justin Trudeau’s government.” His task of naming two other NEB members to hear the Energy East application with him will be challenged, the outlet notes, by the fact that “the NEB has no other members fluent in French, an important concern for a project that will cross Quebec territory.”
The question of fluency may become contentious. The Board last month announced the appointment of three new members it claimed were sufficiently bilingual to conduct reviews in French, and were “expected to be assigned to the Energy East review panel.”
“It is noteworthy,” Le Devoir added, that if Hamilton cannot fulfill his duties, his designated second will be NEB member Philip Davies, “who worked for a long time in the oil and gas industry and was also a member of the committee that signed the NEB report in favour of Kinder Morgan.”
Environmental groups insist the new panel must reinitiate its review of the Energy East proposal from scratch. TransCanada, however, said it expects no additional delays before a decision on its original schedule in 2018. The company also faces an environmental impact review and independent public hearings convened by the Quebec government.
At least one analyst has given the project, which would carry diluted bitumen from Alberta across more than half the country to Saint John, New Brunswick, a roughly one-in-four chance of being completed.