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Trans Mountain Oil Pipeline Review ‘Vexed from Outset’

The review of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion has been plagued by a critical lack of evidence, members of a National Energy Board panel heard in Burnaby last week.

Chris Tollefson, lawyer from the Environmental Law Centre representing intervenors BC Nature and Nature Canada, said the evidence presented in the hearings is insufficient to prevent the panel from discharging its duty under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.

“Fundamentally we say there is a lack of evidence for you to do your job,” he said.

On Wednesday, the federal government announced it will consider the upstream greenhouse gas implications of pipelines, but no project reviews will start over. 

The changes are too little, too late, according to Ecojustice lawyer Karen Campbell.

“These interim measures are a welcome band-aid, but they are not enough to inject science and evidence-based decision-making into the Kinder Morgan review process,” Campbell said. “The outcome of the National Energy Board review must still be to reject this project, until the flaws in the application are remedied, and the full regional impacts of the project are fully considered.”

At the hearing last week, Tollefson also told the panel the lack of cross-examination “has vexed the process from the outset.”

On April 2, 2014 the NEB released a “hearing order” instructing all intervenors to raise concerns by way of written “information requests.”

The order reduced the NEB review of the pipeline to a “mere paperwork exercise,” according to Gregory McDade, a lawyer representing the City of Burnaby.

At the NEB hearings for the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, Tollefson, again as council for BC Nature and Nature Canada, spent 26 hours cross-examining witnesses testifying for Enbridge. There were more than 90 days of cross-examination.

Tollefson told the panel that without cross-examination “the process had basically allowed the proponent to introduce into the record unsubstantiated, unidentified expert testimony that could mislead the panel.”

The panel has the authority to reopen the process to cross-examination or recommend the application not be approved by the federal cabinet.

Tollefson urged the panel to consider acknowledging the process is inadequate.

“It’s your duty in terms of information gathering, it’s your duty to press pause at this point to allow for us to get to the truth of these matters in order that the public interest be served.”

He added that there are areas where the “record is plainly in conflict” and where the panel has been “left with a completely untenable task of making a recommendation on a record that is wholly inadequate.”

“We believe — in our submission, it is important to get to the truth of the matter, for the science issues to be fought out on a level playing field where there is no closure, where the proponent can't rag the puck till the clock is run down.”

The hearings continue this week in Burnaby and will continue in Calgary for one week from February 2-5.

Photo: Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan being interviewed about Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline. Photo by Mark Klotz.

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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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