The federal government is ordering extra consultations with first nations and other communities separate from the work of the National Energy Board as part of its prescription to rebuild public confidence in the pipeline approval process.
It doesn’t halt the NEB hearings underway on Kinder Morgan’s proposed Trans Mountain oil pipeline twinning, not does it delay the NEB’s deadline to deliver a recommendation to cabinet by May.
But the federal government has given itself a four-month extension of its legislated deadline to make a final decision on Trans Mountain – that must now happen by December instead of August.
The government had previously said it wouldn’t force proponents like Kinder Morgan to restart the approval process all over again.
A separate ministerial representative will be appointed to directly consult communities, including first nations, during the extension period and report back to Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr.
Funding will be provided for first nations to participate.
Direct and upstream greenhouse gas emissions linked to the projects will now be assessed, but not the downstream emissions when fossil fuels are burned in destination countries.
The climate change analysis for each project, to be conducted by the federal environment department, will be made public.
The changes effectively add an extra layer of review to plug what the government says were major gaps in the flawed NEB review process left by the Harper Conservatives.
“Without the confidence of Canadians, none of these projects will move forward,” Carr said.
He said final project decisions by cabinet will be based on science, traditional knowledge of indigenous people and other relevant evidence.
Carr wouldn’t say how much weight would be given factors such as climate change impacts or aboriginal concerns, but he cited past court rulings on the Crown’s duty to consult first nations as one reason for the change.
The NEB has been hearing final arguments of intervenors in the Trans Mountain review this month and aboriginal leaders have repeatedly criticized what they say has been a lack of meaningful consultation on the project.
The new rules, billed as a transition step ahead of new legislation to reform the NEB, will apply not just to new pipelines but to all federally reviewed projects.
Also affected are proposed liquefied natural gas plants under federal review, including the Pacific Northwest LNG project at Prince Rupert and the Woodfibre LNG proposal near Squamish, both in late stages of review.
Carr said the process won’t satisfy polarized critics who believe projects should be built either immediately or never, but will improve cabinet’s ability to render a decision.
“There are all kinds of Canadians who want to be satisfied that the process that led to a decision was a good one, a fair one and they had their say.”
The Wilderness Committee criticized the government’s failure to include downstream carbon emissions that make up the bulk of the climate impacts of new pipelines.
“A true climate test would leave regulators with no choice but to reject these projects,” said campaigner Peter McCartney. “Tacking on some window dressing doesn’t make these projects any less of a climate catastrophe.”
Kinder Morgan Canada president Ian Anderson said he’s concerned pipeline construction may be delayed, but agreed public confidence in the process is crucial.