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GREEN SCENE: Time to speak up on Kinder Morgan – if that’s allowed
To no one’s surprise, on Dec. 16, Kinder Morgan filed a 15,000-page application (available at www.transmountain.com) that outlines the company’s plans to essentially triple its capacity to pipe diluted bitumen from Alberta to Burnaby, where a huge expansion of the Westridge terminal on Burrard Inlet is planned to facilitate shipment overseas.
While the proposed new and larger pipeline will avoid some residential areas in Coquitlam previously disturbed by the 1953 construction of the first pipeline, there are still many people living or working close to the Trans Canada and Lougheed highway routes the new pipeline will follow through Coquitlam.
Under new rules introduced by the Harper government, the National Energy Board (NEB) has been tasked with conducting an environmental review and (probably) approving the pipeline project. Just in case the three-person panel appointed by the NEB comes up with the wrong answer, the Harper cabinet has given itself the final authority to approve this project.
No one doubts what the answer will be.
Since the Enbridge proposal for the northern Gateway pipeline project was reviewed by the National Energy Board in 2012/’13, the rules for public engagement have been altered and public input will be far more restricted. When I spoke to the NEB Enbridge panel in January 2013, I was taken aback by the heavy police presence and absolute prohibition on having any members of the public in the room (or even adjacent spaces) in the downtown hotel where I testified.
This time will be far worse. With the exception of those with intervenor status, no one will be allowed to speak face-to-face with the panel this time around.
For the Enbridge pipeline, any member of the public had the right to express their views to the panel. All that was required was a simple request form to be submitted to the NEB. No one who filled out the form correctly was refused.
In addition to comments from the public, intervenors, mainly representing groups with special knowledge or expertise, were allowed a broader range of options to participate in the hearing. These options included interviewing sworn-in witnesses or bringing their own experts to provide testimony. Intervenors typically hire lawyers to represent them in these court-like proceedings.
For the upcoming Kinder Morgan hearings, the only people who will be allowed to submit written comments will be those who submit a lengthy application, which must prove they will be directly affected by the project or have special knowledge to offer. Such people will have to submit a nine-page application form under tight deadlines.
Their application will be reviewed and approved or, possibly, rejected if they fail to prove they would be directly impacted. Only those who are pre-approved by the NEB will be allowed to submit a letter of comment in writing.
I find these restrictions to be a total affront to the democratic principle of citizens being allowed to freely express their points of view.
Tight timelines will further restrict public input. There is an expected to be an approximately three-week period during which people can submit applications; it is anticipated this narrow application window will be announced soon. But it is impossible to fill out the complicated application in advance because the application form will not be posted to the website until the deadline is announced.
Thus, those who are unaware of the pending hearings will quickly lose any opportunity to object even if they live next to the proposed pipeline and, therefore, could argue they would be directly impacted.
If the application bears any resemblance to the one used for the Line 9B reversal in eastern Canada, people will be asked to provide documentation that supports their qualifications to comment and describe in detail all their reasons. Merely being opposed to the dramatic expansion of the tar sands this project will require is not considered to be a relevant reason to object to this project. The application form is onerous and requires referral to complicated Hearing Orders.
(People with email access can sign up to be kept informed of this process by registering at firstname.lastname@example.org. Once registered, you will receive an email notifying you of upcoming deadlines. People without email addresses will have no opportunity to be kept informed.)
Because the Kinder Morgan project will require an expansion of the Westridge Terminal on Burrard Inlet and a huge increase in tanker traffic, I hope that people who recreate on Burrard Inlet by, for example, boating or bird-watching will be considered by the panel to be included in the group of people who could be directly affected by a potential oil spill.
Still, I am aghast at the limited opportunity people have to express their views regarding the Kinder Morgan project or other energy projects in Canada. It’s no wonder some people are resorting to protests that close roads now that more reasonable opportunities for public input are forbidden.
Elaine Golds is a Port Moody environmentalist who is vice-president of Burke Mountain Naturalists, chair of the Colony Farm Park Association and past president of the PoMo Ecological Society.
PIPELINES IN PORT MOODY
On Wednesday, January 22 at 7 p.m., Forest Ethics Advocacy ( www.forestethicsadvocacy.org) is hosting a public meeting with guest speakers on the Kinder Morgan and Enbridge pipelines at Kyle Centre, 125 Kyle St., Port Moody (behind the PoMo Arts Centre). This meeting is open to the public; all those who are concerned about the impacts of pipelines across B.C. are invited to attend.