News / Vancouver

Thumbs up to report recommending dismantling of National Energy Board

West Coast Environmental Law says it supports an expert panel report suggesting the National Energy Board’s role and mandate be broken up.

Kinder Morgan's terminal in Burnaby, B.C.

File Photo

Kinder Morgan's terminal in Burnaby, B.C.

A report recommending the dismantling of the National Energy Board hits the right notes, according to local environmentalists.

The Expert Panel on the Modernization of the National Energy Board released its final report and recommendations to the federal government Monday, proposing to split the regulator's responsibilities up between government and two new agencies: The Canadian Energy Information Agency and the Canadian Energy Transmission Commission.

Under the proposed framework, the federal government would first need to determine whether a major project – such as Kinder Morgan’s proposed Trans Mountain pipeline – is in the country’s national interest and fits into its climate plan before going to a two-year joint review done by the CETC and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.

Data and evidence in both phases would be independently produced by the new information agency.

Panel co-chair Gary Meratsy told Metro it was obvious the NEB needed a serious overhaul during the team’s consultation process.

That tour included a stop in Metro Vancouver where NEB hearings into the now-approved Trans Mountain pipeline expansion were fraught with challenges, as local governments and stakeholders were unable to cross-examine the company, had many information requests rejected and had difficulty having third-party evidence taken into consideration.

“We had a tremendous amount of feedback from across the country, but certainly from the West,” said Meratsy. “The crisis of confidence certainly came through during the entire process. I think the absence of national policy and that impersonal, transactional approach fostered a lot of confidence and trust issues.

“[Recommendations] had to be more than transformational, simply re-organizing the chairs on the deck of the Titanic. What we tried to achieve is be transformative. Grab hold of the ship and be proactive.”

The early reviews seem mostly positive.

“It’s clear that they understood that there was a massive lack of confidence in the NEB as it stood and they’ve clearly proposed very major changes to the way that decisions are made,” said Eugene Kung, staff counsel at West Coast Environmental Law. “It’s essentially disbanding the NEB as it currently stands, separating some of its functions into various bodies and addressing the independence questions that had shrouded the NEB.”

Had government taken more stock in what kind of an impact the Trans Mountain pipeline would have on its climate commitments, as now recommended, it may have had come to a different conclusion whether the project was in the national interest, Kung said.

The plan is not perfect, Kung warned.

Specifically, he said the panel failed to take into account a separate federal review of the environmental assessment process in its final report.

“That’s where there is a disconnect,” Kung said. “The disappointing part of the NEB panel report is that they seem to be stuck on this older conception of what environmental assessment is. We’ll be really interested moving forward in terms of how the government takes these various recommendations and meld them together, because they don’t happen in a vacuum.”

The federal government is accepting consultations on the report until June 14 and will then have to decide whether or not to accept the panel’s recommendations.

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