Canada’s National Energy Board will at least consider considering “the upstream and downstream greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions” of TransCanada Corporation’s proposed Energy East and Eastern Mainline Projects, the agency revealed in a release Wednesday.
The release seemed to be a response to charges that the NEB has lost Canadians’ confidence because of overly close ties to the fossil fuel industry it purportedly polices. It invited input by May 31 into the issues its Energy East/Eastern Mainline review panel will consider.
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The statement, deliberately issued late Wednesday afternoon after stock markets closed, asserted that “one of the notable additions” to its own list of suggested topics “is a proposal to consider the upstream and downstream greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of the projects. The Hearing Panel has specifically asked for feedback on this issue.” As well, the release noted, since “the NEB is also responsible for carrying out an environmental assessment under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012,” the panel wants feedback on “its proposed scopes for the environmental assessment, which has been expanded to include additional potential impacts.”
The agency may get an earful. Previous panels were subject to scathing criticism for sharply narrowing the range of impacts they were willing to consider, and for biasing hearings by excluding the public and environmental non-profit organizations as witnesses. In particular, the refusal of an earlier NEB panel to consider the impact of the downstream emissions that would be released when oil transported in an expanded Trans Mountain pipeline was burned, resulted in the project’s eventual approval being denounced as “fraudulent”.
The regulator’s responsibility for assessing the environmental impact of fossil fuel projects—taken away from the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency and given to the NEB in 2012 by the pro-fossil Conservative government of the day—has raised questions both about the Calgary-based Board’s capacity and its sincerity.
It will be the agency’s second try at reviewing TransCanada’s proposal to build a C$16-billion, 4,500-kilometre pipeline to deliver 1.1 million barrels of diluted bitumen per day to a shipping terminus at Saint John, New Brunswick. Its first attempt collapsed when the NEB’s panel conducting that review held improper ex-parte meetings with a TransCanada lobbyist, then retreated in disarray from a handful of protesters on the first day of public hearings scheduled for Montreal—subsequently cancelled entirely.
Quebec environmental groups welcomed a shift in position described as “a pretty big deal” by Équiterre Senior Director Steven Guilbeault. “I’ve never seen the National Energy Board go this far on the issue of climate change,” he remarked, though “there are many more steps to get to a point where the public can trust the NEB.”
And indeed, André Bélisle of l’Association québécoise de lutte contre la pollution atmosphérique remained distrustful. While the NEB appears to have responded at least in some measure to the issues Canadians believed it was ignoring, Bélisle told the Observer, “we know about the wheeling and dealing [the previous panel] did behind closed doors.” His group has sought a public inquiry into potential corruption at the NEB and asked that the Energy East review be delayed until a new process is in place.
Meanwhile, a federally-appointed review panel that held its own cross-country public hearings on proposals to reform and “modernize” the National Energy Board is due to present a report next week to Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr.