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Private economic interests key consideration in restricting public comment
TORONTO, Dec. 12, 2013 – The new National Energy Board rules shutting down public participation in oil pipeline project hearings were taken directly from an August 2012 oil industry report, ForestEthics Advocacy Association revealed today. The report was the result of meetings between industry players and government officials over a three-year period.
“An analysis of a report by the Energy Policy Institute of Canada, an industry-funded advocacy group, reveals that several of the energy group’s key recommendations were directly inserted into federal law—and bear a striking resemblance to language now in the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and National Energy Board rules–in one case word for word,” said Clayton Ruby, Board Chair of ForestEthics Advocacy Association. “The energy industry told the government what to do, and the government did it. It’s as simple as that.”
In a stark example, Recommendation C.2 in the report, entitled A Canadian Energy Strategy Framework, urges that:
“The federal government must develop regulations that restrict participation in federal EA [environmental assessment] reviews to those parties that are directly and adversely affected by the proposal in question. The only third parties that should be allowed to participate in these reviews are those parties that have the potential to be directly and adversely affected by the proposed project.”
Using some notably identical phrasing, the National Energy Board rules state that:
“If you wish to participate, you must demonstrate to the Board’s satisfaction that you are directly affected by the proposed project. The Board MAY consider whether the granting or refusing of a project application causes a direct effect on (your) interest including the likelihood and severity of harm you may be exposed to.”
As a result of these changes, the government now requires anyone wishing to comment on an energy project to fill out a nine-page Form with detailed personal information. The form is required even for those who wish to submit a short letter in writing. These rule changes have drastically reduced the number of Canadians who are able to participate in hearings as our report shows. Moreover, comments about adverse health and environmental consequences from the tar sands are specifically excluded from consideration.
“Enbridge and the industry lobbied aggressively to get these rules put in place because they don’t want Canadians getting in the way of their profits,” said Tzeporah Berman, who is representing FEAA in a lawsuit against the federal government, the National Energy Board and Enbridge Pipelines Inc. “The industry doesn’t want to hear about messy topics like climate change, cancer rates and poisoned watersheds. Phrases like ‘directly and adversely affected’ are just code for shutting down debate, canceling free speech, and putting people at risk to protect the bottom line.”
The industry report, released last year, emphasizes the economic interests at stake. It explains that if a “hypothetical project were to be delayed for an extra year because of regulatory processes, the project proponent would essentially lose $3.65 billion of value.” That dubious and disturbing statement reveals that the only real project consideration by the industry – and by the Harper government – is economic windfall for the companies at the expense of public safety.
Lobbying records show that between January 1, 2012 and November 30th, 2013, Enbridge met or communicated with federal officials 51 times to talk about energy issues including ‘regulatory streamlining’ and ‘improved efficiencies in environmental assessment processes.’ Enbridge executives were repeatedly able to secure meetings with Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver and officials in the Prime Minister’s Office.
In August, FEAA launched a lawsuit before the Federal Court of Canada to strike down provisions of the National Energy Board Act that unreasonably restrict public comment on project proposals. The National Energy Board (NEB) regulates the oil, gas, and electricity industries and approves pipeline construction, coal and uranium mining, liquefied natural gas projects, and tar sands development in Canada. Enbridge successfully applied to be added to the lawsuit because its economic interests were at stake.
ForestEthics Advocacy was founded in 2012 to stand up for the country’s natural environment and the rights and health of Canadians.
Read the full report: http://forestethics.org/govscandalreport
Read the Backgrounder: http://www.forestethics.org/downloads/who-writes-rules-backgrounder
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