National Energy Board Modernization – Hearings are underway

Public hearings by the Expert Panel on the Modernization of the National Energy Board   began in Saskatoon in January and will conclude in Montreal at the end of March (the schedule is here ).  With transparency and accountability a key concern about the NEB, it is surprising that no transcripts or submissions will be made available online, only government- prepared summaries . Fortunately, press reports are providing the public with some information:  an important example, a report by Andrew Nikoforuk from the Vancouver hearings appeared in The Tyee on  February 9, summarizing the testimony of Marc Eliesen, a former chair of Ontario and BC Hydro and a critic of the NEB since the 2014 Trans Mountain Pipeline hearings.  As quoted in  “Time to Reform Our ‘Captured’ National Energy Board, Says Expert” ,    Mr. Eliesen reiterated his earlier criticism that the NEB  a “captured regulator” that no longer operates in the public interest. “The attitudinal bias that stems from a close interaction between NEB board members, NEB staff and the energy industry, means the goals and aspirations of the Alberta energy sector have become those of the board.” Eliesen recommended that all current NEB board members should be replaced by people from a broader range of expertise, not just the oil and gas industry. He also recommended that the NEB’s head office be moved from Calgary back to Ottawa. In “How to Fix the National Energy Board, Canada’s ‘Captured Regulator’”  , DeSmog Blog (Feb 8) also summarized Eliesen’s testimony, as well as that of  Eugene Kung, staff counsel at West Coast Environmental Law.

Proposals for improving the discredited NEB have come from a Pembina Institute report:  Good Governance  in the era of low carbon: a Vision for a modernized National Energy Board   . From Pembina: “significant reforms to the NEB Act, and to the operating culture and practices at the Board, are required.”  The report lays out 9 essential conditions to transform energy regulation, including : “Energy regulators must be independent of bias and interferences from government and non-government stakeholders. …Energy regulators should proactively  and predictably support involvement of all interested parties and the public as a fundamental component of evidence gathering, decision-making and monitoring.”  Environmental Defence  has also weighed in with “Six key ways to modernize energy regulation in Canada”, and has also called for the restart of the Energy East Pipeline review process to wait until new rules for the NEB are in place. (the previous Energy East Review was declared void in January 2017).   The report and recommendations of the Expert Panel on Modernization of the National Energy Board is scheduled for  submission to the Minister of Natural Resources by mid-May 2017.

A whiff of the bias that so many have noted at the NEB continues, in one of the “related documents” provided at the Expert Panel website: the Interim Report of the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications, titled Pipelines for Oil: Protecting our Economy, Respecting our Environment   (Dec. 2016).  It begins: “Petroleum pipelines, like highways, railways and power line corridors, are long established in Canada. They are instrumental to the quality of life and the standard of living we enjoy in Canada today. Pipelines have no equal when it comes to the safe, reliable and cost-efficient movement of petroleum over long distances. They are critically important to the creation of wealth in Canada and their use and development are in the public interest and the greater good of all Canadians.”  It pronounces on the concepts of social license, the public good, confidence in the regulatory process, then proposes an oil transportation strategy which includes pipelines and tankers.  From the conclusion:  “The Committee believes that new pipelines will act as a lifeline to the Canadian economy, which has been hard hit in the oil and gas sector. Pipelines to the east and west coasts will ensure that Canadian oil producers get the full value of this resource on world markets, reduce refineries’ dependence on oil imports and improve public safety. The Committee has made recommendations to Natural Resources Canada, Transport Canada, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada. The Committee believes that these recommendations will help form a strategy to improve public confidence and break the paralysis preventing the construction of pipelines in Canada.”

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