Eco-activists continue ‘Keystoning’ Energy East in wake of NEB resignations, Trudeau must act

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From left to right, the National Energy Board’s three panel members reviewing TransCanada Corp’s Energy East pipeline proposal: Roland George, Lyne Mercier and Jacques Gauthier. Photo from NEB website.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau must set up a government-led process to address “soft” pipeline review concerns and get them out of the NEB review

Is the National Energy Board review of the Energy East pipeline process broken, now that three panel members have resigned? Not in the least. And claims it is broken are part of the eco-activist strategy known as “Keystoning.”

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Keith Brooks of Environmental Defence.

I first wrote about the Keystoning of Energy East in July, when American eco-activist Bill McKibben joined the attacks on the TransCanada project that will carry 1.1 million b/d of Alberta crude oil east across Canada to New Brunswick, as well as export markets.

“Keystoning involves celebrity opponents (think actors Robert Redford, Daryl Hannah), massive protests, civil disobedience, and social media campaigns to rally the troops,” I wrote then.

Keystoning is the political equivalent of the Blitzkreig: Keep throwing planes and bombs at the target until you reduce it to rubble.

And here’s how McKibben describes the process, named after the strategy he devised to oppose the Keystone XL pipeline, also proposed by TransCanada, and rejected last fall by President Barack Obama: “Every coal mine, every frack well, every oil export terminal … all of them are being met with strict, strict resistance,” McKibben told The Hill in a recent interview. “There’s people arrested every day now around the country taking on these infrastructure projects, the kind of spread of civil disobedience like we’ve never seen.”

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As North American Energy News reported yesterday, “critics had demanded two of three panel members quit when it emerged they had privately discussed the project last year with former Quebec Premier Jean Charest, who was working for TransCanada as a consultant at the time.”

The Reuters reporter is being polite.

Critics actually went into full-throated, hyperbolic Keystoning – complete with outlandish and inaccurate claims.

This bombast from Keith Brooks of Environmental Defence is a typical example: “It’s clear the process is broken…It makes no sense to assess Energy East, the longest and largest tar sands pipeline ever, using a process everyone agrees is deeply flawed…It’s time for the Prime Minister to listen to the concerns of Canadians from across the country and take immediate legislative action to overhaul the broken and discredited regulator.”

This is utter nonsense.

It’s not clear at all the process is broken. Next week, I will have several columns based upon interviews with experts who say the NEB process is actually quite sound, and respected around the world as an example of exemplary oil and gas regulation.

But Canada’s energy regulator does have a problem, an issue that is not of its making and one that can be laid squarely at the feet of the previous Conservative government led by Stephen Harper.

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Gaetan Caron, a former NEB chair and now a fellow of the School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary (who also advises TransCanada on Energy East, and was therefore unable to answer questions about that project), says that the NEB is a quasi-judicial body that is independent of the federal government, and set up under federal legislation with a fairly narrow mandate.

That mandate is to review the technical merits of energy infrastructure projects that fall within its purview. The NEB is responsible for the “hard” side of the review process.

Anything outside that purview, the “soft” side – politics, social engagement, upstream GHG emissions, First Nations consultation, etc. – is the responsibility of the Canadian government.

The Harper Tories wanted nothing to do with the soft side of the process. They declared themselves 100 per cent in favour of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway and Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Expansion pipeline projects from Alberta to the West Coast, sending then-Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver around the country speechifying in support of pipelines.

Harper cared not a whit for consultation, as the Federal Court of Appeal illustrated nicely when it threw out the NEB’s Northern Gateway approval in June because the Conservatives failed in Canada’s constitutional “duty to consult” First Nations.

Eco-activists immediately spotted the opportunity.

Without a government-led process to address “soft” concerns, pipeline project opponents Keystoned the NEB “hard” review process with everything they had. They flooded panels with thousands of intervenors, showed up by the busload to overwhelm public meetings, and did everything within their power to discredit and break the process.

Now eco-activists are Keystoning the Energy East review.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau must act and act quickly. He must set up a government-led process to address those “soft” pipeline review concerns and get them out of the NEB review.

If that means staring down eco-activists like Brooks – who would like nothing better than the continuation of the status quo, rich as it is with Keystoning opportunities – so be it.

Natural Resource Minister Jim Carr told me in an interview that the Trudeau Government intended to consult widely and extensively about pipelines before it made the final decision on a project.

Well, now is the time. Let’s see Justin Trudeau show real leadership on this issue.

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