Canada’s National Energy Board and Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr are both being accused of putting thumbs on the scale in favour of Houston-based Kinder Morgan in its dispute with the city of Burnaby over a controversial pipeline expansion.
On Wednesday, the NEB stood accused of tossing “softball questions” at Kinder Morgan, during a hearing into the company’s contention that Burnaby was using municipal bylaws to unduly delay its proposed Trans Mountain expansion project. Carr, meanwhile, drew criticism after calling for the formation of a conflict resolution panel to expedite the process around municipal and provincial permits.
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National Observer notes that Burnaby “has become ground zero” for the continuing opposition to the 890,000-barrel-per-day pipeline project. Kinder Morgan requested the NEB hearing in hopes of convincing the Board “to quash municipal bylaws that it claims are causing delays in pipeline construction and millions of dollars in losses,” the Observer recalls. “The company has also argued that it has had trouble understanding what the rules are in Burnaby.” The city, for its part, “has blamed the company’s incompetence for delays, claiming that Kinder Morgan has struggled to follow rules that apply to all developers”.
During the hearing, lawyers for the city and the company squabbled over whether the NEB allowed the appearance of bias with an apparently spontaneous decision to question witnesses directly—and the imbalance in its questions to the company and the city. “This accusation could be grounds for an appeal that would provoke more construction delays if the regulator sides with the company and allows it to bypass Burnaby’s bylaws,” the Observer notes.
In the course of the questioning, Burnaby lawyer Gregory McDade objected that NEB lawyer Mark Watton was throwing out “leading questions” for Kinder Morgan, but conducting a “cross-examination” of the city’s representative.
“I’ve been listening carefully for the last 20 minutes, and I think we are well into the realm of cross-examination,” he said, during the NEB questioning on Burnaby’s written testimony. “We’re dealing with this affidavit in an entirely different way than the softball questions on the Trans Mountain matter.”
The Observer notes that the members of the NEB panel— David Hamilton, Phil Davies, and Alison Scott—were the same three who originally recommended the federal government approve the project.
While the hearing unfolds, Carr is asking the NEB for a new conflict resolution process to expedite the kind of objections Burnaby has been raising in response to the Kinder Morgan plan.
“The government has taken an important step to ensure that when a natural resource project is approved, it proceeds in a timely fashion and continues to generate economic benefits for all Canadians,” he said in a prepared statement. “The government is supportive of establishing a process that would assist in resolving any conflicts over the issuance of municipal or provincial permits and avoid unnecessary delays to project construction or regulatory compliance.”
That isn’t sitting well with B.C. Environment Minister George Heyman or federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, both of whom slammed the federal process, or Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, who is promising relentless opposition and expensive delays for the project.
“It’s both a highly unusual and a highly troubling intrusion on a province’s right to enforce its own permits, its own regulations, and the interests of its own citizens,” Heyman said in response to Carr’s statement. “We do not take kindly to this intervention.”
Singh accused the Trudeau government of a “major betrayal of the people of British Columbia”, adding that “they’re supporting the rights of a corporation to override the decision-making of an elected body, the municipality of Burnaby. That to me is a massive concern.”
And Phillip warned that “West Coasters—First Nations and British Columbians—have already delayed this project through ongoing, relentless opposition and delays, and will continue to do so until Kinder Morgan is stopped. Anyone investing in Kinder Morgan should prepare for a long, drawn-out, and very expensive battle.”
Recalling that the company had illegally placed heavy plastic snow fencing to inhibit fish spawning in several of the streams the pipeline is intended to cross, Phillip added that “Kinder Morgan cannot be trusted to follow a simple permitting process without flagrantly breaking the law. How can we trust them with salmon, orcas, and our water?”