This is why the NEB's new oil tanker review is a sick joke

Chris Campbell

Now we know how the federal Liberal government will take the first step to try and untangle the mess that is the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion approval process.

The feds announced this morning (Friday) that the National Energy Board has less than six months to redo its environmental review of the project - this time taking into account the impact of additional oil tanker traffic leaving Burnaby’s Westridge marine terminal.

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This is an attempt to address one of the two reasons the Federal Court of Appeal gave when it overturned approval of the project.

The court said that ignoring the issue of increased tanker traffic – by a whopping amount – was a mistake. After all, it's estimated the number of ships will go to about 35 a month from the current five – the risks to the environment and ocean creatures will go up substantially.

So, what do we make of this announcement?

Well, it's a joke - a sick joke. Definitely not a funny-ha-ha joke, but more like a “this feels like a good time to use the word sham.”

The reason is I have no faith in the NEB – the agency that made the original blunder of leaving out tanker traffic from its review.

The court ruling savaged the NEB, saying a “critical error” was made in regards to the lack of consideration of tanker traffic in waters around Burnaby and Vancouver, and beyond.

“The unjustified exclusion of marine shipping from the scope of the project led to successive, unacceptable deficiencies in the [NEB’s] report and recommendations,” said the court.

And now we’re supposed to believe that the NEB will somehow get it right this time.

Don’t make me laugh. Actually, I can’t laugh because it’s so infuriating.

The bigger overall issue is if the NEB can be trusted at all to be unbiased in how it looks at energy projects. For several years now, starting with the Harper government, the NEB has been viewed as incredibly biased. There have been accusations that the Harper government was appointing people to the NEB who were too closely tied to the energy industry.

In 2015, when the Liberals were in opposition, the party’s own environment critic at the time, John McKay, was quoted as saying that the credibility of the NEB had sunk to historic lows with the Canadian public. Then, in February of this year, the Liberal government announced it was scrapping the NEB and replacing it with a new process because the existing agency was ill-suited to the task. Also, add in the fact that the NEB's political masters, the Liberal government, have said without any uncertainty that it wants this pipeline built.

So, once again, I ask the question: we’re supposed to believe that the NEB is going to suddenly, hopefully, magically get it right this time - conducting a fair and unbiased examination of tanker traffic?

I’ll start holding my breath now. OK, that might be a bad idea.

As for the other outrageous problem outlined by the courts - improper consultation with Indigenous communities - Canada's plans to restart consultations with Indigenous communities will be announced shortly.

A source told The Canadian Press recently the government is looking at hiring a retired federal judge to help oversee those consultations with a view to ensuring they follow court-ordered processes exactly this time.

Considering the long, awful history Indigenous peoples have had with the judicial system, we’re not sure how excited they will be dealing with a “retired federal judge” during this next phase of consultations, but here we are.

  • With files from the Canadian Press


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