Bold recommendations from the Expert Panel on Modernization of the National Energy Board – but experts call for more

NEB_banner1-eIn November 2016, Canada’s  Minister of Natural Resources commissioned an  5-person Expert Panel on the Modernization of the National Energy Board , mandated “ to position the NEB as a modern, efficient, and effective energy regulator and regain public trust”. After public hearings and submissions, the results are in, in the form of 26 recommendations released on May 15, in their report:  Forward,Together: Enabling Canada’s Clean, Safe, and Secure Energy Future .   Chief among the recommendations:  replace the current Board  with a new organization called the Canadian Energy Transmission Commission, to be based in Ottawa rather than Calgary, with radically increased scale and scope of stakeholder engagement, and especially with an increased role for Indigenous people.  The report also calls for a new, independent Canadian Energy Information Agency to provide energy data, information, and analysis. The Panel lays out a detailed vision of a new process, based on 5 core principles of: Living the Nation-to-Nation Relationship with Indigenous Peoples; Alignment of Regulatory Activities to National Policy Goals; Transparency of Decision-Making & Restoring Confidence ; Public Engagement Throughout the Lifecycle; and Regulatory Efficiency and Effectiveness.

For summaries and a range of immediate  response to the Panel’s recommendations, see : “Trudeau- appointed panel recommends replacement of the National Energy Board” in the National Observer , which provides summary, reaction, and background based on its ground-breaking, sustained investigations into the NEB process;  “Scrap NEB and replace it with 2 separate agencies, expert panel recommends” from CBC Calgary, with a sense of Alberta’s reaction; “National Energy Board needs major overhaul, Panel says”   in the Globe and Mail, which seems to greet the news with a yawn. 

For substantive response, see “NEB Modernization Panel report: The good, the workable and the ugly”   from West Coast Environmental Law, which states: “environmental lawyers say that the report completely misses the mark when it comes to how projects like oil pipelines should be assessed, and disagree with the Panel’s approach to determining whether individual energy projects are in the national interest.”

The “Statement by Environmental Defence’s Patrick DeRochie on the report from the Expert Panel on National Energy Board Modernization”   says:   “the Panel’s proposal for the Federal Cabinet to determine whether a project is in the national interest before it undergoes an environmental assessment is problematic. Responsibility for environmental assessments must be removed from the energy regulator and be completed before a Cabinet decision.” Environmental Defence also states that the NEB’s review of the Energy East pipeline must be put on hold until NEB modernization is complete.

From DeSmog Canada, “Trudeau promised to fix the National Energy Board. Here’s what his Panel Recommends” summarizes the contents.  In “Will a Repackaged National Energy Board Be Able to Meet Canada’s 21st Century Challenges? ”  Chris Tollefson of the Pacific Centre for Environmental Law and Litigation  frames the report in its larger context, and states: “What the Expert Panel fails to address, however, is the need fundamentally to reform the assessment that major energy projects must undergo before we, as a society, allow them to proceed. These assessments must be capable of supporting informed, transparent and defensible social choices about future development.  This is quite different from regulatory processes that are principally aimed at mitigating anticipated harms. …. where this Expert Panel has failed, and where the CEAA, 2012 Expert Report adds enduring value, is in confronting the legitimacy crisis that pervades decision making around fossil fuel infrastructure development. ”

From the Pembina Institute:  “NEB Expert Panel report two steps forward, one step back on climate” :  “The Expert Panel’s recommendations are only as good as the federal government’s next steps. It’s up to Prime Minister Trudeau and his Cabinet to seize this once-in-a-generation opportunity to reform Canada’s energy project review landscape by ensuring NEB modernization works in sync with other elements of the federal environmental law reform process. … now is the time to outline a credible pathway that builds upon recommendations from the EA and NEB expert panels to ensure this outcome is achieved.”

A  public comment period on the Expert Panel report is open until June 14th; click here to participate in French or English. You can read research reports and position papers already submitted to the Expert Panel here.  The submissions already received are not available – only Panel-generated summaries of the engagement sessions, which are here.

What next for the recommendations of this Expert Panel, and the other regulatory reviews in process (for example, the Report of the Expert Panel on Environmental Assessment , released on April 5 )?  According to the Natural Resources Canada press release: “Over the next few months, the Government of Canada will review the expert panel’s report in depth along with the reports from the other three environmental and regulatory reviews to inform the development of next steps.”

Reports re environmental regulation arrive to positive response – next up in May: the Expert Panel on modernizing the National Energy Board

The Government of Canada launched four reviews of government environmental and regulatory processes in June 2016, and recently, the appointed Expert Panels have begun to deliver their reports.  The Report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans  was released on February 24   – to a welcoming review by West Coast Environmental Law:  “We are pleased that the Committee has listened – to First Nations, to conservation and community groups, to scientists and concerned citizens across the country – and has recommended reinstating the Fisheries Act’s key prohibition on habitat alteration, disruption and disturbance .

Canada 2017 expert panel report building-common-ground-pdfThe Report of the Expert Panel on Environmental Assessment was released on April 5, and is open for public comment – only until May 5 at www.letstalkea.ca/.  The report, Building Common Ground: A New Vision for Impact Assessment in Canada   incorporates a fundamental idea in its title:   what is now “environmental assessment” should become “impact assessment”.  The Panel recommends that:  an Impact Assessment Commission should be established as an independent, arm’s length government agency, “with a broad leadership mandate to conduct project, region-based and strategic-level assessments.  …. The Commission would also be mandated to generate its own independent science so that assessments are evidence-based and agency-led… and the Panel should commit to  ensuring that the projects are not developed without the early involvement of potentially affected Indigenous peoples and the public. ”

One  of the first responses to the Expert Panel comes from Chris Toellofson at the Pacific Centre for Environmental Law and Litigation (CELL) , who states: “the Panel deserves kudos for both for its ambitious commitment to process, and the innovative and balanced way it has charted the law reform road ahead.” The article continues with a thorough summary and analysis of the report, including: “Our biggest concern with the Report is that it has mainly focused on procedures, values and governance – and has therefore not engaged with some of the substantive legal tests that must be embedded in a federal assessment law to give it real traction. For example, the Report does not address the need for assessments to include “worst case scenario” modeling, and only briefly touches on the need for “alternatives” assessment. These legal requirements, as our experience in the Northern Gateway, Kinder Morgan, and Pacific NorthWest LNG reviews underscore, can be of critical importance, both scientifically and legally.”

WCEL env assessment summit coverWest Coast Environmental Law (WCEL) also responded positively though briefly, calling the report “not perfect but a step in the right direction”, and calling on the government to translate the recommendations into law quickly.  WCEL had convened a Federal Environmental Assessment Reform Summit meeting in Ottawa in May 2016, attended by approximately 30 of Canada’s leading environmental assessment experts, academics, lawyers and practitioners.  The summary of those discussions  was published in August 2016, and offers a context for any review of the recommendations of the government`s Expert Panel report.

Next up in May:  the Report of the Expert Panel regarding the Modernization of the National Energy Board , scheduled to be delivered to the Minister of Natural Resources on or around May 15, 2017.   Anticipating that release,  Ecojustice published a blog,  Modernizing the National Energy Board : Let’s get it right  on April 4, which states : “Today, the NEB is riddled with systemic failures. Some of the most glaring problems include, no flexible timelines for reviews, lack of inclusive public participation, and limitations on public hearings such as no cross-examination and no meaningful consideration of climate change impacts…The NEB, as we’ve come to know it, is dominated by industry insiders and conventional industry perspectives. As a result, it fails to objectively evaluate the need for, and the consequences of, new oil and gas projects. As we transition to a decarbonized energy system in which we are less likely to build new oil and gas infrastructure, the NEB’s role — chiefly concerned with regulating oil and gas and in particular interprovincial and international pipelines — should diminish. In other words, the NEB should get out of the business of environmental assessment….  The NEB’s function should be limited to technical matters traditionally within its regulatory expertise (related to pipeline safety, for instance). It could also turn its attention to technical plans for decommissioning and remediating energy infrastructure, such as pipelines, that are redundant in a decarbonizing economy.”

Reaction to the Harper Government Northern Gateway Decision

Neither the Prime Minister nor any cabinet ministers were available for comments or questions about the expected cabinet approval, released at the last possible moment via a brief press release on June 17. “After carefully reviewing the report, the Government accepts the independent Panel’s recommendation to impose 209 conditions on Northern Gateway Pipelines’ proposal.” …” Moving forward, the proponent must demonstrate to the independent regulator, the NEB, how it will meet the 209 conditions. It will also have to apply for regulatory permits and authorizations from federal and provincial governments. In addition, consultations with Aboriginal communities are required under many of the 209 conditions that have been established and as part of the process for regulatory authorizations and permits.” See the press release at http://news.gc.ca/web/article-en.do?mthd=tp&crtr.page=2&nid=858469&crtr.tp1D=1 and the government’s summary statement of the 209 conditions is at http://news.gc.ca/web/article-en.do?mthd=tp&crtr.page=1&nid=858489&crtr.tp1D=930 .

The province of British Columbia has conditions of its own, which Environment Minister Polak reiterated in the official B.C. reaction to the decision on June 17 at http://www.newsroom.gov.bc.ca/2014/06/northern-gateway-pipeline-more-work-needed-to-meet-bcs-five-conditions.html. Most notably, the First Nations of B.C. have condemned the decision: see the Coastal First Nations website at http://www.coastalfirstnations.ca/ , where Art Sterritt, Executive Director of the Coastal First Nations says: “The government’s announcement giving its approval to Enbridge is meaningless. ‘It’s an approval in name only. This project is dead. ’…… The project can’t proceed with these conditions. We’ve been clear there is no technology to clean up an oil spill and the dispersant that is used causes more damage than the oil itself.” (http://www.coastalfirstnations.ca/news-release/june-17-2014-215pm ).

Another press release from the Coastal First Nations, on June 16th, states: “With many First Nations gearing up for court battles to protect their territories from this risky proposal, representatives of Coastal First Nations, Dogwood Initiative, Unifor, West Coast Environmental Law, Douglas Channel Watch and One Cowichan promised to work together to defeat Northern Gateway, regardless of any approvals issued by the federal cabinet.”

The internet is alive with opposition campaigns: Within B.C., the Dogwood Initiative is calling for a referendum at Let B.C. Vote at http://www.letbcvote.ca/ , (includes a compilation of news reports). Stand Strong Christy, co-ordinated by ForestEthics Advocacy, at http://standstrongchristy.ca/ has an online petition urging B.C. Premier Christy Clark to hold firm to her earlier stated 5 conditions for Northern Gateway approvals in B.C.

Leadnow.ca and ForestEthics Advocacy host another petition at http://www.enbridge21.ca/ naming the Enbridge 21 (the 21 federal Conservative cabinet ministers from B.C.) and providing an online email form to contact them, and “hold them accountable” by pledging to vote for whoever opposes Enbridge in the 2015 election.

David Suzuki posted an open Letter and has an online petition to Stephen Harper , and the leaders of all federal parties at http://action2.davidsuzuki.org/no-enbridge-pipeline?utm_campaign=enbridgeEmail&utm_source=EM1&utm_medium=email&utm_content=link&mkt_tok=3RkMMJWWfF9wsRolu6XLZKXonjHpfsX66u8kXK%2B3lMI%2F0ER3fOvrPUfGjI4CSsFiI%2BSLDwEYGJlv6SgFS7jNMbZkz7gOXRE%3D .

The federal Green Party also has its own petition at http://www.greenparty.ca/media-release/2014-06-17/predictable-cabinet-decision-enbridge-project-launches-fight-stop-pipelines . Environmental Defense has an online email form to send a protest message to the political leaders at http://environmentaldefence.ca/stop-tar-sands-expansion?utm_source=Environmental+Defence+Campaign+Email+List&utm_campaign=06cf692bda-Lighten+Up+FINAL&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_df56834cfa-06cf692bda-27545293.

For reaction from environmental groups, see EcoJustice at http://www.ecojustice.ca/media-centre/press-releases/federal-approval-doesnt-guarantee-enbridge-northern-gateway-will-be-built ; Pembina Institute at http://www.pembina.org/reacts-fed-decision-gateway, Greenpeace Canada at http://www.greenpeace.org/canada/en/Blog/harper-just-picked-a-fight-he-cant-win/blog/49666/ , Environmental Defence Canada at http://environmentaldefence.ca/articles/statement-environmental-defence%E2%80%99s-tim-gray-in-response-federal-cabinet%E2%80%99s-irresponsible-deci and Natural Resources Defence Council (U.S.) at http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/eshope/canada_approves_northern_gatew.html .

Pipeline News: Kitimat, First Nations Reject Northern Gateway; the Government Downgrades Protection for Humpback Whales

The Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline has encountered new road blocks as communities voice renewed opposition to the project. In Kitimat, residents voted against the pipeline by 60% in a non-binding plebiscite on April 19th. Kitimat might stand to gain the most if the project proceeds, with a promise from Enbridge to bring 180 permanent jobs to the community in addition to indirect opportunities for local contractors and suppliers. The day before the vote, four First Nations from the Yinka Dene, just west of Kitimat, expressed their official opposition to Northern Gateway in a meeting with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, the National Energy Board, and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. The Yinka Dene have already gathered 160 B.C. First Nations behind a petition against the project. Other communities that have previously stated their opposition include Terrace, Prince Rupert, and Smithers.

See “Kitimat Residents Vote ‘No’ in Pipeline Plebiscite” from The Globe and Mail at: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/kitimat-residents-vote-in-northern-gateway-oil-pipeline-plebiscite/article17949815/, “Does Kitimat’s Vote Matter?” In The Tyee at: http://thetyee.ca/News/2014/04/12/Kitimat-Northern-Gateway-Vote/, and “Four Dene clans officially reject Northern Gateway pipeline” from The Globe and Mail at: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/four-dene-clans-officially-reject-northern-gateway-pipeline/article17948468/.

See https://workandclimatechangereport.org/2014/01/28/northern-gateway-headed-to-court-as-neb-approval-provokes-criticism-of-review-process/ for background on the current lawsuits against the Northern Gateway project by First Nations and environmental groups.

Meanwhile, on April 22nd, Environment Canada has recommended that the humpback whale be reclassified, from “threatened” to “species of special concern” under the Species At Risk Act. This would remove legal protection for humpback habitat (which happens to include the British Columbia coast where oil tanker traffic would increase if Northern Gateway is approved, and is part of the basis of a lawsuit launched by EcoJustice and others). See the CBC report at: http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/humpback-whale-losing-threatened-status-amid-northern-gateway-concerns-1.2617633.

National Energy Board Rejects B.C. Academics’ Participation in Transmountain Pipeline Hearings

A public letter sent to the National Post states: “This week, the National Energy Board (NEB) announced plans for its upcoming hearings on the proposal to triple the capacity of Kinder Morgan’s Transmountain Pipeline, which transports oil from Alberta to the Port of Vancouver. The new pipeline alone is expected to lead to 50% more carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions each year than all of British Columbia currently produces. That fact prompted 26 university professors who study climate change to apply to lend our expertise to the NEB’s assessment of whether this project is in the public interest. Every one of us was rejected, because we proposed to talk about climate change…” See the letter at: http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2014/04/10/donner-harrison-hoberg-lets-talk-about-climate-change/; see the NEB website for the Transmountain project at: http://www.neb.gc.ca/clf-nsi/rthnb/pplctnsbfrthnb/trnsmntnxpnsn/trnsmntnxpnsn-eng.html.