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EDITORIAL: National Energy Board needs overhaul

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The federal government must overhaul the National Energy Board (NEB), especially its environmental assessments, before any more harm is done to eastern Canada.  

The NEB has altered its mandate to regulate pipelines and energy development. It is failing to factor in economic and social considerations that represent the interests and concerns of all Canadians.
The board’s latest decision to throw a potentially fatal roadblock in the path of TransCanada’s $15.7 billion, 4,500 km Energy East pipeline is a gross over-reach of its mandate. It is ignoring the economic concerns of eastern Canada where provincial governments, businesses and residents are in favour of the pipeline.
At almost the same time that hurricane Harvey was battering Houston, shutting down refineries and sending oil prices soaring across Canada, the NEB decided to overstep its powers and cripple our country’s access to its own oil. Just when it was evident that eastern Canada should not be held hostage to offshore oil issues, the NEB thumbed its nose at the region.
The board is already in disrepute after its environmental panel assessing Energy East was found in a conflict of interest situation just over a year ago. The panel was disbanded and a new one appointed earlier this year. It seems little has changed.
The new panel decided to throw out two years of decisions made by its predecessor. The board said, “Our decision may be an inconvenience to some." Really. Three years after submitting its application, TransCanada is still waiting for a NEB decision.
Other pipeline projects seem to have escaped this new scrutiny. This year, federal approval was given for expansion of a pipeline through British Columbia and the Keystone XL got the go-ahead from Alberta into North Dakota.
TransCanada plans to pump approximately 1 million barrels a day through the Energy East pipeline to supply refineries in Montreal and – of special interest to Atlantic Canada – the huge Irving Oil refinery in Saint John.
Thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions in construction costs are at stake in the region, but especially for New Brunswick. The pipeline will provide a secure supply of Canadian oil, which helps Alberta and our national economy, and end the need to import hundreds of thousands of barrels of foreign oil every day.
Environmental groups had pushed for the Energy East review to include a climate test. The recent decision to consider indirect greenhouse gas emissions in evaluating the pipeline is a capitulation to those groups and a cause of grave concern.
The board has changed the rules midway through the review and caused expected outrage from provincial governments in New Brunswick, Alberta and Saskatchewan. To no one’s surprise, TransCanada is putting its application on hold for a month while it reassesses the project, signaling its displeasure with endless roadblocks and delays. Many consider the project is dead. TransCanada hints the pipeline could be cancelled unless there are some major changes to the NEB in the next month.
The NEB decision on so-called upstream and downstream greenhouse gas emissions could also derail any future energy developments in Canada and opens up other sectors to the same new rules.
Upstream emissions include activities before the oil would reach the pipeline, such as emissions created in producing oil, whereas downstream emissions refer to activities once the oil has left the pipeline like the refining and combustion of the oil.
Will utilities, auto manufacturing, rail lines or trucking companies will now be asked to consider the emissions of their cargo or how electricity is used?
New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant suggests the federal government should step in to get the review process back on track and clarify the role and mandate of the NEB. It’s time we get back to reality. Oil is necessary to our survival and way of life – today and well into the foreseeable future - even as the world transitions to cleaner fuels.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said any big project has to balance jobs and economic growth against protecting the environment. That’s fair; what the NEB is doing certainly isn’t.
Protecting the environment should not mean the death knell for any new pipelines. The NEB is withdrawing into a dream world of solar and wind power and electric cars.
It gets very cold in Canada during the winter. That’s the reality. Deal with it.

 

 

 

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