TIK Responds to Federal Government Changes to Pipeline Reviews
Yesterday Minister of Natural Resources Jim Carr and Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna announced new rules to govern the review of the Energy East pipeline project. The announcement carries a mix of good additions, as well as perpetuating some ongoing problems with the way that pipeline projects are reviewed and approved in Canada.
The new guidelines strive to restore credibility and public support for pipeline reviews, and the government pledges to more broadly engage Canadians in these processes. Questions still remain, though, about how openly access to participation will be granted under the continued discretion of the National Energy Board. Questions also remain as to whether problems around the inadequacy of participant funding will be resolved for the Energy East review.
Transition Initiative Kenora notes that the new benchmark of 21-months for review is an improvement over the 15-month review timeline that is currently mandated through the National Energy Board Act. Yet we maintain that having any mandated, fixed timeline remains problematic for respecting processes that may take longer than 21-months. Undertaking “meaningful consultation and accommodation” with Indigenous peoples to which the new guidelines aspire may require additional time to respect traditional processes, governance, and decision making protocols. Related to this concern, while Transition Initiative Kenora is pleased to see greater efforts to meaningfully consult and accommodate Indigenous peoples, we recognize these commitments fall short of the standard of implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples’ provisions around Free, Prior and Informed Consent for Energy East.
We are very pleased to see that upstream carbon emissions – those greenhouse gases released through extraction of the oil that will fill the pipeline – will be assessed, though it remains unclear how fully the public will be able to participate in the climate impacts review that is slated to occur through the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change, or how the government will weigh this evidence in making its decision to approve or reject Energy East. Studies have already demonstrated that the upstream emissions from Energy East could be as high as 32 MT annually, the equivalent of adding more than 7 million new cars to the roads, and also potentially breaking through Alberta’s recently devised 100 MT tarsands extraction emissions cap. For this reason, including in the project’s review an analysis of upstream emissions is an important addition to the overall review process.
We applaud the government’s efforts today to instill in the review process the credibility that comes from collecting science-based evidence and more broadly engaging with the public. Nevertheless, concerns remain as to whether these changes to the hearing processes will result in a more robust body of scientific evidence making its way to the hands of decision makers. Furthermore, the subjectivity with which the final decision on pipeline approvals will be made remains problematic. In keeping with the current NEB Act, Cabinet retains the ultimate power to approve or reject a project, and as Minister McKenna explained yesterday, there is no formula or set of guidelines to determine how potentially competing interests should be weighed when that decision is made. Cabinet will collect evidence on issues including climate and environmental impacts, impacts to Indigenous peoples and other communities, pipeline safety and integrity considerations, and economic impacts and will then make a decision at its discretion. Science may provide evidence, but such evidence will not be binding in making a decision.
Today, it feels like we’ve moved a few tiny steps closer to securing a credible governance process for making major decisions about energy infrastructure – decisions that will have impacts for decades to come, and could make or break our national economic fortunes as the world rapidly transitions to reliance on renewable energy over fossil fuels this century. But there’s still a lot of work to do to ensure climate protection doesn’t fall victim to political expediency.