Burnaby MP says NEB trying to shut people out of pipeline process
The National Energy Board (NEB) is trying to shut people out of the process reviewing the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion proposal, says Burnaby-Douglas MP Kennedy Stewart.
"There's more notice and opportunities to participate when we're discussing speedbumps on Cambridge Street [in North Burnaby]," said the New Democrat Thursday.
For weeks his office has contacted the NEB trying to find out when people could apply for intervenor status to have their voices heard on Kinder Morgan Canada's expansion application which was filed Dec. 16. If approved, it would almost triple capacity on its pipeline from Edmonton to Burnaby to allow for increased exports of oil sands crude to overseas markets.
Then on Wednesday afternoon, his staff stumbled on a Dec. 31 letter from the NEB to the pipeline company, buried on the regulatory body's website, stating that applications would be taken starting Jan. 15 until noon on Feb. 12.
The company is required to publish notices to that effect in certain local newspapers no later than Jan. 29, potentially meaning only a two-week window for people to submit their applications.
"So this giant $5-billion project, if you just happen to be away the day the paper lands on the doorstep, that's it."
Stewart called it a "deliberate attempt by the National Energy Board to really limit participation to major companies."
He noted that in the past, the NEB takes several months to review a company's application to make sure it's complete, with relevant maps, for instance, then it announces a public hearing and puts out a notice giving people weeks to register. Then it decides who will be allowed to participate.
In this case, the call for participation will go out at the same time as the review is happening, and it's narrowed the window for people to apply. If the review results in changes being made to Kinder Morgan's 15,000-page application after the Feb. 12 deadline, no additional applicants will be accepted.
Now it'll be held just in time.
Stewart's constituency office will also be converted into a registration centre for the NEB process, with additional computers and staff brought in to assist people in applying. Only those who would be directly impacted by the project will be permitted to have their views and concerns heard as part of the hearings. People with relevant information may be allowed to participate, and who ultimately is chosen in either category will be up to the NEB.
His office staff will help people articulate how they qualify to participate, volunteer lawyers will be available to offer advice, and there will be assistance in applying for NEB funding for participants, to hire their own lawyers, for example.
"This is it. Out of all this chatter and maps and public events and things, this is really the moment, if people have any concerns about this project, this is the time to get involved right now," Stewart said.
He stressed that his office will help anyone to apply, whether they oppose or support the project. And he urges people to register, even if they ultimately decide not to participate, rather than regret later not having applied.
The process for the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline proposal took four years, Stewart noted. In contrast, this process is limited to 15 months.
NEB spokesperson Sarah Kiley said from Calgary that Northern Gateway involved a joint-review panel, through an agreement between the NEB and the federal Ministry of the Environment, which doesn't happen very often. Trans Mountain is following a more typical timeline, which is 15 months.
A change in federal legislation also now calls for "fixed beginning-to-end time limits of 18 months for most NEB applications," she said by email, and "all NEB hearings over the last eight years have been completed within 15 months from the issuance of the hearing order to the release of the reasons for decision."
As for why there was no announcement of the application dates, Kiley said an email sent out to those requesting emailed updates mentioned that it would start "mid-January."
It had planned to let people know specific dates starting when the application window opens.
"We have no interest in trying to hide that from people. It really is our goal to get people who are directly affected or who have relevant information to share to apply to participate in these hearings."
Kiley confirmed applications will be accepted starting Jan. 15 with a deadline of noon on Feb. 12. Asked where on the NEB's website for the project those dates are mentioned, she referred to the letter from the NEB to Kinder Morgan, found under a link to "regulatory documents."
"Certainly there's no attempt to try and dissuade people from applying."
She also confirmed that in the past, participant applications were taken after the company's application was reviewed and a hearing order issued.
"We recognize that there is a lot of interest in this project and we are expecting a large number of applications to participate, so we decided to open the process," she said in an email. "In fact, I’ve had a number of people/groups indicate they would like to file their application to participate and we’ve had to tell them that the process is not open yet."
As for Stewart's plans, he will not be applying for intervenor status himself. Instead, the federal NDP will apply on behalf of all its MPs, an initiative to be led by Burnaby-New Westminster MP Peter Julian, the Opposition's energy critic.
As an MP, Stewart explained, he would not be allowed to hire a lawyer, but the party can and has more resources at its disposal.
"It just really is a disservice to the community what they're doing here," he said of the process. "It's weighted so heavily against local residents."