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Pipeline Snakes and Ladders: Energy board changes pipeline hearing rules

I want to alert you to the most recent attack on environmental protection and democracy in this country and share with you a letter I wrote to Gaetain Caron, Chair and CEO, National Energy Board of Canada (NEB). I was spurred to write after a frustrating experience last week.

The NEB is now operating under NEW rules created by last June's omnibus bill and, as predicted, democratic participation has suffered -- in this case regarding the environmental review process concerning Enbridge's proposal to reverse its old "Line 9" pipeline (that has been transporting light oil from Montreal to Sarnia for decades). Enbridge wants to use Line 9 in reverse to pump corrosive Tar Sands bitumen from Sarnia to Montreal and beyond eastward (exactly where we don't know).

Line 9 passes through some of the most populated areas in Canada. Remember the oil spill we witnessed earlier this month, running through the middle of a town in Arkansas. It too involved corrosive Tar Sands bitumen being pumped through an old pipeline.

A similar spill in Canada could be devastating to thousands of people. Get use to the images -- they could be coming soon to a street near you.

It's the first case using the new omnibus rules for environmental assessment. You may remember at the time the omnibus bill was being rammed down Canadians throats, we described it as an attack on democracy and the environment and unfortunately we were right.

The NEB has already ruled that even though it is required to consider the "cumulative impacts" on the environment of the pipeline proposal, neither the upstream impacts (toxic air/water emissions) nor the downstream impacts (air pollution from the refinery and impacts on climate) will be considered. This is huge step backwards and ensures, going forward, energy projects will be never again be truly assessed for their REAL environmental impact. But I'm getting ahead of myself. We still aren't even at the stage where we can democratically participate in the process…

Sierra Club Canada, of course has plenty to say about the Line 9 proposal, but before we can participate in the hearing we have to apply to NEB for permission.

New NEB: Snakes and Ladders (and more snakes)

Getting back to the attack on democracy... I mentioned we now need permission before we can democratically participate -- and that means filling out more forms. Fine, but does the process really have to be deliberately complicated, confusing and frustrating?

My afternoon of frustration was a result of wading through the newly developed arcane process of applying devised by the NEB.

I've filed a lot of applications over the years, and I've also spent the last three years devising online campaigns and therefore have a pretty good grasp of the Internet, so I concluded I'd be able to easily whip off an application.

After an hour I realized it was NOT the case. I soon reverted to my previous life's reporter-instinct, reached for the telephone and called the NEB for help finding the documents.

Petro games

It wasn't hard to find the first 'rules' document, but finding the actual application was another story (a long story, as I've eluded). But I still wasn't done. After I finally found the application -- with the assistance of NEB -- I realized I had to find yet another (third) document explaining how to fill out the application (document 2). I'm not making this up…"ridiculous and a waste of my time," I fumed to myself.

I called NEB back to register a complaint with the office of the Chair. The receptionist simply refused to transfer me, despite my friendly and polite request. "He won't take calls on this," he said. So I wrote a letter (below) to Gaétain Caron, Chair of the NEB. If you'd like to write him too (and I strongly encourage you to) here are his coordinates:

Gaétain Caron, Chair
National Energy Board
444 Seventh Avenue SW
Calgary, Alberta T2P 0X8

Government bureaucracy should not be used to discourage people from exercising their rights, and if the NEB Chairman forgot that he needs to be reminded. Thanks for your ongoing support and inspiration.

John Bennett, Executive Director
Sierra Club Canada
412-1 Nicholas Street
Ottawa, Ontario K1N 7B7
John on Twitter / Bennett Blog


April 9, 2013

Gaétain Caron, Chair
National Energy Board
444 Seventh Avenue SW
Calgary, Alberta T2P 0X8

Dear Sir,

Sierra Club Canada has participated in numerous environmental hearings in its 50 year history in Canada and has been subject to some strident rules and procedures.

I'm writing on behalf of Sierra Club Canada members across Canada to express our concern about the process developed by the National Energy Board to qualify potential "commentators".

We understand the changes in legislation last year undermined the democratic rights of Canadians to participate in significant decision that affect them and their children and recognize this change has required the NEB to place restrictions on who may participate.

It is, however, within the responsibility of the NEB to develop a process for applying the new legislation in a fair and reasonable way. Sierra Club Canada is concerned it has not done so.

I have personally attempted to work my way through the process described on the NEB website and will be applying by the deadline. However, I must tell you it is an unnecessarily cumbersome, confusing, and time consuming process. And, further complicated by the fact that only one person, Michael Benson, is available to assist the public and he is not available.

Since the same process is required of all those who wish to comment on a project. Is this what it looks like? 'A deliberate attempt to discourage non-industry experts, nongovernment organizations, impacted landowners and all Canadians from contributing to the regulatory process', we sincerely hope it isn't.

For example why is it necessary to download and print the application? Then scan and upload it or use a fax machine or postal delivery. Why are the directions for submitting the application in a separate .pdf document OH-002-2113? Why has the NEB chosen to make participating so difficult when there are well known technologies available to make online application clear and easy?

If we have misinterpreted the NEB's action and it does wish to establish an application system that is not confusing and discouraging. I would be glad to make our web personnel available to discuss using modern online tools to resolve the problems.

John Bennett, Executive Director
Sierra Club Canada
412-1 Nicholas Street
Ottawa, Ontario K1N 7B7

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