On January 9, the National Energy Board (NEB) finally announced the new panel members that will review TransCanada’s proposed Energy East pipeline, replacing the trio that recused themselves in September 2016 after revelations that panel members had secretly met with a TransCanada consultant.
But within hours of news breaking about the new panel members, a notice of motion was filed by the environmental law firm Ecojustice on behalf of Transition Initiative Kenora, calling for the complete cancellation of the entire Energy East review based on an unresolved “reasonable apprehension of bias.”
“The original panel presided over the review for years,” says Charles Hatt, one of the two Ecojustice lawyers representing Transition Initiative Kenora, in an interview with DeSmog Canada.
“All of those important decisions that they made along the way occurred after the conduct that gave rise to the reasonable apprehension of bias, after those meetings with the interested stakeholders.”
Hatt says it is clear the entire proceeding had been tainted by the reasonable apprehension of bias.
For Hatt and representatives from Transition Initiative Kenora, it simply isn’t enough for the former panel members to recuse themselves. The original panel’s work is tainted by a the apprehension of bias which Hatt describes as “the idea that there’s been some conduct that in the eyes of a ‘reasonable person’ gives rise to the perception of bias.”
These lingering concerns have led the petitioners to request the National Energy Board void the entire proceedings, leaving TransCanada with the option of starting from scratch.
‘Tainted’ Panel Made Dozens of Preliminary Rulings and Requests
The original Energy East review panel was announced in December 2014.
Only the following month, the two review panel members and NEB chair/CEO Peter Watson met privately with former Quebec premier Jean Charest, who was then working as a consultant for TransCanada.
While the NEB denied it at first, the meeting did in fact include specific discussions about Energy East including suggestions of “using the ‘Lac Megantic example’ to show that pipelines are safer than rail.”
Other private meetings took place that Watson and the panel members didn’t publicly disclose.
At least a year-and-a-half of preliminary work was completed by the panel prior to the beginning of the formal review in June 2016. This work was completed without any acknowledgment that members of the review panel had secretly communicated with the project proponent.
The new notice of motion by Transition Initiative Kenora, submitted to the NEB on Jan. 10, reports that the previous panel decided “dozens of procedural and substantive matters that have shaped the Board’s review of Energy East,” including 27 rulings, six procedural directions and nine information requests to TransCanada.
It notes the original panel also determined when TransCanada’s project application was complete and decided who could or could not participate as intervenors in the National Energy Board’s review of Energy East.
“It’s a continuation of work that we had started earlier,” says Teika Newton, executive director of Transition Initiative Kenora.
“We filed the notice of motion back in August that resulted in the original review panel recusing themselves in September. This is a natural progression on that.”
NEB Has to Respond to Notice of Motion or Refer It to Federal Court
Newton’s organization has specific concerns about the proposed construction of Energy East, especially the impacts of a potential oil spill on water sources, wetlands and marshes.
But she emphasizes the notice of motion is something that should concern any participating group given the need to ensure a fair regulatory process and review: “I don’t think we’re any different or have any unique concerns just because of who we are or where we are.”
“I think it’s an issue that applies universally to all participants,” she says.
Transition Initiative Kenora must now wait for the new panel to formally issue a response to the motion.
Hatt says the NEB will have to hear from all interested parties, which will include TransCanada and many intervenors. It could take weeks or longer to hear from all parties, after which the panel will have to make a decision.
The National Energy Board can refer the matter to the Federal Court of Appeal or could refuse to grant relief.
Hatt says “if and when that happens we will advise our client about challenging that decision in court.”
He adds that the motion provides the federal government with the opportunity to restart the process under a renewed National Energy Board Act and Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, both of which are currently under federal review.
Strengthened environmental laws could result in “a totally different type of review of these important pipeline projects,” Hatt says.
“They’ve put bandaids on the existing legislation but it’s still the legislation that was reformed by the previous government.”
It was also announced on Jan. 9 that Ginoogaming and Aroland First Nations had filed a lawsuit and injunction against TransCanada to ensure proper consultation for pipeline maintenance and prevent “integrity digs” that some fear are actually preliminary work connected to Energy East.
Environmental Defence has also called for the NEB to “pull the plug on the Energy East review and restart it only when an overhauled review process with a credible climate test is in place.”
Newton says her group is “content to just see what happens next in this ongoing saga.”
Image: Environmental Defence poster outlining risks of TransCanada's Energy East pipeline. Photo: Environmental Defence via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)