Activists celebrate as the Energy East Pipeline is cancelled

energy east mapOn October 5, TransCanada Pipelines issued a press release , announcing that it would no longer proceed with the proposed Energy East pipeline and Eastern Mainline projects.  Accordingly, the National Energy Board Hearing Process has been closed, although documents remain on its website.  Below is some of the reaction that has poured forth, including: “TransCanada terminates Energy East pipeline” and  “Disappointment and delight mark the end of Energy East Pipeline”  in the National Observer (Oct. 5); “Climate Hawks celebrate as TransCanada abandons Energy East pipeline” from Energy Mix.   The Council of Canadians had conducted a 5-year campaign against Energy East: their reactions and those of their allies appear in “WIN! Energy East tar sands pipeline defeated!”  ;  “Voices from the Energy East Resistance”  (Oct. 6)  and “Diverse Groups Opposed to Energy East Celebrate Project’s Cancellation” .  The common message is exemplified by Grand Chief Serge Simon of the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake on behalf of the 150 First Nations and Tribes who have signed the Treaty Alliance Against Tar Sands Expansion, who is quoted as saying: “Both the Northern Gateway fight and this Energy East one show that when First Nations stand together, supported by non-Indigenous allies, we win …. “So that’s two tar sands expanding mega-pipelines stopped in their tracks but it will be a hollow victory if either Kinder Morgan, Line 3 or Keystone XL are allowed to steamroll over Indigenous opposition and serve as an outlet for even more climate-killing tar sands production.”  (and for more on that, read “Energy East cancellation resonates for opponents of Trans Mountain expansion in B.C.”  in the National Observer.

Commentators trying to explain TransCanada’s decision focus on three principle reasons: the economics of falling oil prices, regional political forces, or the regulatory burden of pipeline approvals in Canada (especially since the Energy East review was  required to account for upstream and downstream emissions).  From the Globe and Mail, an editorial:  “The death of Energy East was a Business Decision – Swimming in Politics” , which attributes the decision to  Quebec opposition to Energy East, and the likely go-ahead of the Keystone XL pipeline in the U.S.  The Editorial states: “Mr. Trump appears to have solved most of the Canadian oil industry’s pipeline shortage, making Energy East no longer economically necessary. The American President…. has also temporarily solved one of the Trudeau government’s, and Canada’s, most challenging political problems.” For a view of the political dimensions within Canada, read  “Energy East pipeline is dead, fallout in Alberta will be measurable” in Rabble (Oct. 6) . Finally, three overviews of the issues:”Regulations alone didn’t sink the Energy East pipeline” by Warren Mabee,Queen’s University and ACW Co-Investigator in The Conversation (Oct. 15);  “Five Things you need to know about the Cancellation of the Energy East Oilsands Pipeline” from DeSmog Canada, and “Energy East’s cause of death: Business, politics or climate?“, from CBC News, which describes the regional differences via reaction from Canadian provincial premiers.

 

Finally, the National Energy Board Modernization process is underway

The Review process for the Modernization of the National Energy Board has begun.  The Terms of Reference  are here, summarized on the website as focussing on “ governance and structure; mandate and future opportunities; decision-making roles, including on major projects; compliance, enforcement, and ongoing monitoring; engagement with Indigenous peoples; and, public participation.” Twelve Discussion Papers are available   to guide input.  Comments can be submitted online here , with a deadline of  March 31, 2017;   cross-country “engagement sessions” for the public will begin in Saskatoon on January 25, and end in Montreal on March 29.  The Expert Panel will deliver its report to the Minister of Natural Resources, with a  May 15 deadline.     See an article in the  National Observer (Jan. 16) , which notes that the process launch comes amidst legal challenges: Two First Nations of Northern Ontario have named the National Energy Board and the government of Canada as defendants in their suit against TransCanada pipeline, for failing to consult with them before  allowing work on a 30-kilometre stretch of the pipeline that runs through their traditional territories  (details here) .  A second  court challenge was filed on January 10 by community group Transition Initiative Kenora, asking that the entire Energy East consultation process be voided and re-started, because of the conflict of interest allegations of the Charest Affair  in  Fall 2016.     (more details about the court challenge from Energy Mix here or from Ecojustice here  )

New Brunswick arrives at First Ministers’ meeting with a new Climate Action Plan

On December 7, the government of New Brunswick released its climate action plan,  Transitioning to a Low-carbon Economy .  It pledges a “made-in-New Brunswick price on carbon and caps on GHG emissions that reflect the reality of the New Brunswick economy”; similarly, the pledge to phase out coal as a source of electricity is “respecting New Brunswick’s economic reality and considering potential financial support from the federal government”. Government operations, facilities and vehicles will become  carbon-neutral by 2030 .  The government pledges to develop working groups with First Nations to address priority actions, and include First Nations representatives on a climate change advisory committee.   Only one day previously, on December 6, New Brunswick issued a press release  reiterating the government’s support for the Energy East pipeline, on the grounds that “An estimated 4,551 direct and indirect jobs are expected during construction of the pipeline, with 321 jobs every year of operation. The potential increase to New Brunswick’s GDP is more than $3 billion.”

Update: National Energy Board suspends Energy East hearings, Regulatory review process underway

On September 9, public outcry about  the NEB “Charest Affair” became too strong to resist, and the NEB announced  that the Energy East hearings are adjourned, that all three panelists have voluntarily recused themselves, and the hearings will be reconvened once a new panel can be constituted.  In addition, the the Chair and Vice-Chair are recusing themselves  from administrative functions related to the Energy East process, and will not be involved in the selection of the new panel.   For a recap of this unexpected turn of events,  and the series of investigative reports which led to the exposure of the entire “Charest Affair” , go to the National Observer.  See also the Environmental Defence blog (Sept 9)    and the Energy Mix coverage here and here.

In mid-summer, WCR  wrote:  “Canada’s National Energy Board was served a legal notice on August 11, the latest fall-out from news reports in July which revealed  that Jean Charest, former Premier of Quebec and a paid consultant to TransCanada at the time, met privately with NEB Board members to discuss the Energy East pipeline proposal. The panelists met privately with other registered intervenors, including the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal  and Équiterre – a Quebec-based environmental group, despite NEB’s own rules that require it to review projects in public, keeping a full record of discussions, and to use a fair and transparent process.  The revelations would not have come to light without the digging of a National Observer reporter and his Freedom of Information requests;  the NEB has now apologized for the meetings and released some records and emails.  According to a series of reports in the Globe and Mail in March 2016 (here  and here)  Jean Charest has also been investigated for his attempts to contact the Prime Minister’s Office about Energy East, but was cleared of breaking lobbying rules in March.

The NEB officials who conducted the “off-the-record”  meetings  are now panelists on the NEB hearings on Energy East,  currently underway in New Brunswick . The legal letter  sent on August 11 demands that the Energy East hearings be suspended; a new panel be struck  to conduct hearings into the private meetings; and two senior members of the NEB ( the Chair and Vice-Chair) who both participated in the controversial meetings, must be excluded from any duties related to Energy East during the course of the investigation . The legal letter was sent on behalf of two Quebec advocacy groups: Stratégie Énergétiques and the Association Québécoise de la Lutte contre la Pollution Atmosphérique (AQPLA).

Reaction to the controversy is summarized in  “Charest pipeline controversy flares as May calls for resignation from federal panel”   in the National Observer (August 8).  And Chantal Hebert sums it all up succinctly in “National Energy Board’s credibility as an independent agency at stake: Hébert”  in the Toronto Star, (August 11). To date, the federal Minister of the Environment and Climate Change hasn’t addressed the NEB controversy directly, but urged Canadians to have confidence in the system during a news conference in Halifax in August.

In September, environmental groups, including Greenpeace Canada, the David Suzuki Foundation, the Association québécoise de lutte contre la pollution atmosphérique, Nature Québec, and the Council of Canadians sent a letter to the Minister of Natural Resources,   demanding a suspension of hearings and an investigation into the NEB. (See a summary at the National Observer ) .

The National Energy Board controversy is part of the poisoned chalice passed down from the Stephen Harper government, which the current Liberal government is attempting to deal with through regulatory review.  In June,  the federal government announced   a comprehensive review of environmental and regulatory processes – including “modernizing” the National Energy Board, and restoring protections in the Fisheries Act.  On August 15, a second announcement  described the creation of a four-member Expert Panel to undertake the review of federal environmental assessment processes, and stated that public consultation would begin in September. The Terms of Reference for the Panel are here   ; the Review website is here.

In anticipation of the Review, the West Coast Environmental Law Research Foundation convened a Summit of Experts in May 2016, and in August, published an Executive Summary of the proceedings, setting out twelve “pillars” of a next-generation environmental assessment,  based on the key principles discussed.  Amongst the pillars: a call for recognition of the rights of Indigenous people, improved consultation and information flow to the public, and the consideration of the impact on Canada’s GHG reduction targets as agreed to in the Paris agreement.

Feds issue Interim Rules for Environmental Assessment, including Climate considerations

In one of the first concrete actions of the Trudeau government, interim changes to the environmental assessment process were announced on January 27, 2016  . Interim Measures for Pipeline Reviews  applies specifically to the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain and Energy East Pipeline projects, extending the deadlines for the National Energy Board reviews to allow for greater consultation with First Nations and the public, and to “Assess the upstream greenhouse gas emissions associated with this project and make this information public”. Some reaction was favourable, for example, Environmental Defence . Ecojustice states “Liberals’ Interim Pipeline Measures fall Short” ; the Pembina Institute is supportive but asks “4 Key Questions for the Canadian Government’s New Climate Test ” , as it might apply to Petronas’s Pacific NorthWest LNG project in British Columbia. And David Suzuki asks, “Paris changed everything, so why are we still talking pipelines?” .