CALGARY – A cross-country tour of the panel looking into the future of the National Energy Board heads to Vancouver this week, where many expressed dismay at the workings of the regulator following its approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion last year.
The five-member panel tasked with making recommendations on modernizing the NEB are looking to hear about potential changes to its structure, mandate and role that have been left largely unchanged since it was created in 1959.
Eugene Kung, staff counsel at West Coast Environmental Law, says the Trans Mountain approval created an “extremely low” level of confidence in the regulator for many in the Lower Mainland.
“So many community members that I’ve worked with over the last number of years self-fundraised, self-organized, hired lawyers, hired experts, put a lot a lot of energy, blood, sweat and tears into the process. And what I’m hearing over and over again is it was extremely disappointing and a waste of time,” he said.
“I think that’s why the NEB is in bad need of modernization,” said Kung, who will be presenting to the panel members Wednesday.
Following the Trans Mountain approval, the City of Vancouver, the Squamish Nation, the Living Oceans Society and the Raincoast Conservation Foundation all filed applications for judicial review of the NEB’s decision.
Kung said the regulator needs to do more to factor in issues around climate change — something Erin Flanagan, director of federal policy at the Pembina Institute, has already shared with panel members at sessions in Saskatoon and Toronto.
“Part of the reason why we’re engaged in the modernization process is because to date, the National Energy Board has not done a great job incorporating climate change into their mandate and their assessment of projects,” said Flanagan.
The Pembina Institute wants the NEB to produce a wider range of data on energy use and needs, including creating oil demand scenarios that incorporate the Paris climate commitment of keeping global warming to under two degrees Celsius.
Flanagan said better modelling would make it easier to decide if projects fit in with already established national and provincial climate regulations, and she’s been encouraged by the panel’s response so far.
“We get the sense that they are really thinking big picture about the role of the board, and that this question of their modelling and the ways in which they’re incorporating climate change into their assessments, that that’s really something they’re trying to get right,” she said.
Nick Schultz, general counsel at the Canadian Association of Pipeline Producers, said they support the review as a way to give the public greater confidence in the assessment process, though he said the NEB already does many things right.
“Some of this hostility that’s out there is really unjustified, and I think harmful,” said Schultz.
He said climate change is already being factored in by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency — which is undergoing a separate federal review — and CAPP doesn’t want to see regulations hamper the industry.
“Our starting point is we are an exporting nation with an abundance of natural resources, and … we think that regulation should foster and not frustrate that Canadian advantage,” said Schultz.
Overall he hopes the process will provide greater policy clarity, including on climate change issues.
“Investors need to know before they apply to the regulator what kind of policy framework they’re operating in,” said Schultz. “You can’t expect people to put hundreds of millions of dollars into regulatory proceedings — and that’s what these big hearings cost — on a crap shoot.”
Helene Lauzon, co-chair of the panel, said she’s heard from many group looking for change to the regulator on everything from the requirement that board members live near Calgary, to greater indigenous consultations, to who among the public can present at project review sessions.
So far, public participation in the panels has been limited though, with only a handful at each session, said Lauzon.
The panel will end its 10-city tour and stop accepting online comments at the end of March, as it prepares its report to the Minister of Natural Resources due by May 15.
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