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Over 1,800 Apply to Participate in Federal Review of Energy East Pipeline, Vast Majority Want to Discuss Climate

By midnight March 3 the National Energy Board (NEB) received 1,801 applications from groups and individuals wishing to express their views on the proposed Energy East oil pipeline. At least 1,250 applicants indicated they want to comment on the impacts the west-to-east pipeline will have on climate change, according to environmental organization 350.org.

“I have applied to intervene at the NEB hearing to talk about the impact of the proposed pipeline on greenhouse gas emissions because I think that it’s outrageous that impacts of the pipeline on climate would be deliberately excluded from the assessment process,” Danny Harvey, professor of Geography and Planning at the University of Toronto said in a statement.

The NEB, Canada’s federal pipeline regulator, has been clear it will not accept public comments on the climate impacts of TransCanada's Energy East pipeline. With the majority of applicants wanting to comment on this very issue, the NEB is now in a position where it may very well deny most applicants a voice in the regulatory review process.  

“This speaks to Canadians wanting to talk about climate change and tar sands expansion at the federal level. There is nowhere else to go to talk about this stuff with the federal government,” Cam Fenton, Canadian Tar Sands Organizer with 350.org, told DeSmog Canada.

350.org managed to track individuals wanting to comment on the climate impacts of Energy East through the organization’s website. The group estimates 1250 individuals intend to address climate change.

Energy East is the largest oil pipeline proposal in North America. If approved the 4,600-kilometer pipeline from Alberta to New Brunswick would move 1.1 million barrels of oil and western Canadian oilsands (also called tar sands) bitumen every day.

“You Can’t Ignore the Climate Impacts"

The greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with extracting, shipping and consuming 1.1 million barrels of crude daily is comparable to putting another seven million cars on the road, according to the Pembina Institute, an energy think tank.

“You can’t ignore the climate impacts like this without significant protest,” Fenton said.

The board plans on announcing this summer who will be permitted to participate in the regulatory process on Energy East. Due to restrictive rules on public participation introduced in federal omnibus budget bill C-38 in 2012, the NEB only permits Canadians the board believes are “directly affected” or have “relevant information or expertise” on a project to submit comments.

During the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain oil pipeline regulatory process in British Columbia, the NEB received over two thousand applications to participate and of those four hundred and sixty-eight were rejected. Among were twenty-seven scientists and experts wanting to comment on the climate impacts of expanding Trans Mountain's capacity.

The Energy East process may have three times the amount of ‘rejectees’ if the board chooses to thrown out all applications from individuals and groups who expressed interest in commenting on climate change.

“A full accounting of economic costs and benefits must include external costs of production  in particular, the impact on existing economic activity, potential impacts due to spills, and impacts on human populations associated with climate change impacts,” Marc Lee, Senior Economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, stated in a press release.

Proposed Route of Energy East is Still Unclear

Although the month-long application period to apply to participate in the regulatory process on Energy East closed March 3, the NEB have may to reopen it sometime in the near future.

“If TransCanada were to make changes that result in additional individuals and groups being directly impacted by the project, the Board has procedural flexibility to address those matters, if and when they materialize. For example, we could re-open the application to participate process,” Katherine Murphy, spokesperson for the NEB, said in a statement.

The board has not determined yet if TransCanada's application is complete and contains all the necessary information for the regulatory process to move forward. Furthermore, Energy East’s proposed route is still in question.

TransCanada initially proposed the building of two marine oil tanker terminals, one in Quebec and another in New Brunswick, as part of the project. The site selected for Quebec  Cacouna  has been controversial for months. The port of Cacouna is adjacent to the breeding grounds of endangered belugas whales in the St. Lawrence Estuary.

Quebec media citing government sources reported last month TransCanada was abandoning its plans for Cacouna. TransCanada has denied the report and says it will make its final decision on Cacouna by the end of March.

Changing the proposed site of a terminal in Quebec or eliminating it entirely from the project would alter the routing of the 1,600 kilometers of new pipeline TransCanada plans on constructing through Quebec and New Brunswick. This could create a new group of Canadians who suddenly are “directly affected” or in position of “relevant information or expertise” on the project.

According to the changes the federal government made to the National Energy Board Act in 2012, the NEB only has fifteen months to make its recommendation on a pipeline project.   

But the clock does not start ticking on the allotted fifteen months until the board delivers its ‘hearing order,’ a document that spells out who has been approved to participate in the regulatory process and when and where public hearings will take place. The hearing order will be issued sometime this summer.

Image Credit: Pacific Wild

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“These are the stories that need to be told and you are some of the only ones telling them,” John, a new member of The Narwhal, wrote in to say.

Investigating stories others aren’t. Diving deep to find solutions to the climate crisis. Sending journalists to report from remote locations for days and sometimes weeks on end. These are the core tenets of what we do here at The Narwhal. It’s also the kind of work that takes time and resources to pull off.

That might sound obvious, but it’s far from reality in many shrinking and cash-strapped Canadian newsrooms. So what’s The Narwhal’s secret sauce? Thousands of members like John who support our non-profit, ad-free journalism by giving whatever they can afford each month (or year).

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