pipeline.jpg

U.S. EPA Denied Late Participation in Kinder Morgan Hearings, Exposes Shortcomings of New NEB Process

The Canadian National Energy Board (NEB) rejected a request this month from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to extend the deadline to apply as a participant in the public hearings on Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain oil pipeline expansion.

The EPA was unaware of a February 12 deadline to apply as a participant in hearings on the proposed $5.4 million expansion of the Vancouver-to-Edmonton Trans Mountain pipeline, which would increase its capacity from 300,000 barrels per day (bpd) of diluted bitumen to 890,000 bpd.

The pipeline expansion, which is supported by 13 oil companies, will free the flow of landlocked Albertan oil to Asian markets overseas.

The EPA reportedly needed more time to “follow through with agency protocols and procedures” before applying to take part in the hearings, according to a notice filed with the NEB.

Media relations and communications advisor Hanady Aisha Kader said in an e-mail that the EPA is “reviewing information and considering any appropriate next steps in reviewing potential transboundary environmental impacts posed by the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion.>

Kader added that the agency “has been in touch with individuals, groups and government agencies in Washington State; Environment Canada; and Canada’s National Energy Board,” but could not give any further information.

Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline route.

Ben West, tar sands campaign director at ForestEthics Advocacy Association said that “it seems that the EPA didn’t have sufficient time to do their own internal process in order to apply within the short window the NEB put forward,” but found it “mind-boggling…that Harper would so publicly slap the U.S. government in the face in regards to this proposed pipeline project.”

This wouldn’t be the first time the U.S. and Canada have faced tensions over pipelines. Prime Minister Harper has criticized President Obama for “punting” the decision on whether to approve the proposed cross-border TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline. The pipeline’s development remains in limbo until the U.S. approves it.

Sven Biggs, campaign organizer for ForestEthics, observed that not only has the window to apply for NEB hearings been getting “smaller and smaller,” going from five months for the Enbridge hearings to twenty-eight days for Kinder Morgan, but “adding to the confusion, initially the NEB were telling folks that this comment period would start in April.”

Environmental groups on the Canadian side see the EPA being shut out of the hearings as an inevitable result of sweeping changes to environmental laws made by the Harper government in 2012. These changes included repealing the Canada Environment Assessment Act and replacing it with the CEAA 2012.

“CEAA 2012 replaced the CEA Agency with the NEB as the responsible authority for certain projects, such as pipelines, and imposed tight timelines on the completion of the review process,” Eugene Kung, a lawyer at West Coast Environmental Law, told DeSmog Canada.

Harper’s reform of environmental law has resulted in a review process that is “less democratic, less transparent, less thorough and less accountable,” said Kung.

After the changes made by the federal government, members of the public can only register to comment or intervene in an NEB hearing if they are ‘directly affected’ by the project being assessed, rather than an ‘interested party,’ as was the case prior to 2012. Whether or not the NEB will consider the EPA as ‘directly affected’ remains to be seen.

West thinks there is ample reason to see the EPA as a ‘directly affected’ party, since “there are clearly implications for the environment along [the] west coast of the U.S. if there was an oil spill from the tankers passing by Puget Sound and down the coast.”

Map of tanker route along the Washington border from Living Oceans Society.

“Furthermore, the EPA has expressed concerns regarding the carbon footprint of tar sands oil and should have the ability to submit evidence to the government of Canada in regards to these concerns,” West added.

Kung agreed that the impact of the Trans Mountain expansion is not limited by international borders, with “the dramatic nearly 700% increase in tanker traffic through the Salish Sea and the corresponding increase in a catastrophic oil spill[s]” ensuring lasting effects both in Canada and the U.S. The fact that the NEB is not considering the upstream or downstream impacts of the project on emissions from oilsands expansion and burning oilsands crude abroad “further demonstrates the shortcomings of the proposed environmental assessment,” said Kung.

According to Kung, the EPA now has the option of filing a judicial review to the Federal Court or Federal Court of Appeal about the NEB decision. The Harper government’s changes to the NEB Act means NEB decisions on whether it will consider the representation of a person (including the EPA) are final.

“As this situation demonstrates, the new Environmental Assessment regime places very strict limitations on public process to the point where the EPA may not be able to contribute their wealth of knowledge and experience in regulating Kinder Morgan with the NEB,” said Kung.

Kung explained that West Coast Environmental Law, along with ForestEthics and the Sierra Club, hosted two webinars to explain the NEB application process because of public confusion over the new rules.

“Many people reported difficulties navigating the complex application system,” said Kung, but “despite all the hurdles and challenges, 2,134 people, organizations and institutions had filed applications, including over 50 First Nations, municipal governments, concerned citizens groups, businesses and homeowners.”

Image Credit: ForestEthics Advocacy Association / Who Writes the Rules? A Report on Oil Industry Influence, Government Law, and the Corrosion of Public Process

New title

You’ve read all the way to the bottom of this article. That makes you some serious Narwhal material.

And since you’re here, we have a favour to ask. Our independent, ad-free journalism is made possible because the people who value our work also support it (did we mention our stories are free for all to read, not just those who can afford to pay?).

As a non-profit, reader-funded news organization, our goal isn’t to sell advertising or to please corporate bigwigs — it’s to bring evidence-based news and analysis to the surface for all Canadians. And at a time when most news organizations have been laying off reporters, we’ve hired eight journalists over the past year.

Not only are we filling a void in environment coverage, but we’re also telling stories differently — by centring Indigenous voices, by building community and by doing it all as a people-powered, non-profit outlet supported by more than 2,900 members

The truth is we wouldn’t be here without you. Every single one of you who reads and shares our articles is a crucial part of building a new model for Canadian journalism that puts people before profit.

We know that these days the world’s problems can feel a *touch* overwhelming. It’s easy to feel like what we do doesn’t make any difference, but becoming a member of The Narwhal is one small way you truly can make a difference.

We’ve drafted a plan to make 2021 our biggest year yet, but we need your support to make it all happen.

If you believe news organizations should report to their readers, not advertisers or shareholders, please become a monthly member of The Narwhal today for any amount you can afford.

Indrapramit Das is a freelance writer, critic and artist. His work has appeared in Slant Magazine, Vancouver Weekly, Strange Horizons…

How to heal a river

The rain is pounding relentlessly, stirring up silt in muddy side channels of the Koksilah River on eastern Vancouver Island, where a few picked-over chum...

Continue reading

Recent Posts

Help power our ad-free, non‑profit journalism
Get The Narwhal in your inbox!

People always tell us they love our newsletter. Find out yourself with a weekly dose of our ad‑free, independent journalism