The Northern Gateway: what the National Energy Board didn’t consider!

The pre-announcement statements from Conservative Politicians show that Federal Cabinet approval of the Northern Gateway Pipeline is a certainty.  Yet a fundamental issue may undermine the legal foundation for Cabinet approval.

Did the National Energy Board (NEB) properly discharge its mandate to review the full environmental effects of the Northern Gateway Pipeline?    4RG Contributor Hugh Robertson does not think so!  He observed that

“[t]here were a few fleeting references in the [NEB] report as to whether future generations would be better off with or without the pipeline project but there was no in-depth analysis of the potential impact on unborn generations.

Robertson concluded that the NEB panel mistakenly ignored or dismissed GHG emissions

  • from the extraction of bitumen  from Northern Alberta AND
  • during  construction of the pipeline AND
  • during the refining of the  product transported through the Pipeline AND
  • from its ultimate combustion in another country.

In other words, in assessing the public interest the NEB panel failed to examine how the total of these emissions would over the longer term contribute to global warming.

The difficulty with this criticism is that nowhere in the relevant Federal legislation is there any clear direction to the NEB to take into account the longer term, indirect contribution to global warming of any pipeline project it is asked to approve.

Contrast Canada with the US and the European Union.   In exercising its mandate to review Keystone XL, the US State Department researched how approval of that Pipeline would contribute to climate change.

The European Union has gone even  further.   A new European Union Directive requires the environmental review agency to consider climate change in its decision.   The Directive states:

“Climate change will continue to cause damage to the environment and compromise economic development.  In this regard it is appropriate to assess the impact of projects on climate (For example greenhouse gas emissions) and their vulnerability to climate change.”

The Canadian Federal Government has no interest whatsoever in introducing cautions about climate change into the mandate of the NEB.  Its objective is to make the review process more “efficient”, particularly by lessening the time required to reach a decision.   Evidence as to climate change would – at the very least – frustrate the Government’s desire to see a quick decision.  And also increase the possibility that a truly independent board could reject pipelines on the scale of Northern Gateway.

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