As part of its efforts to modernize and renew key environmental regulatory legislation and agencies, the Trudeau government set up a review panel for the National Energy Board, or NEB. The five member expert panel has heard presentations from stakeholders across the country, read submitted comments and responses, and consulted widely with stakeholders. This consultation is similar to the recently-completed consultation on the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA), and was called in part as an effort to restore public trust in the assessment process.
Evidence for Democracy contributed a submission to the NEB review panel, which can be found on our Responses to Government Consultations page. Our key recommendation was that the NEB be dissolved and its functions absorbed by the CEAA: there is no clear reason to subject oil and gas projects to a separate envrionmental review process from any other major project. Retaining a separate agency that is perceieved to have close ties to the industry it exists to regulate further erodes public trust that the NEB is acting in the public interest rather than the interest of the energy companies. We also recommended that all data used in a project’s review process be publicly available and ideally provided by independent parties contracted by the regulatory agency rather than the project proponent. These measures would serve to increase the transparency of the decision making process. Finally, we recommended that all energy projects be subject to long term monitoring and follow-up, as the environmental impacts of energy projects are not confined to the construction phase of a project’s lifetime. Monitoring the impact infrastructure has on the local and regional environment is imporant for evaluating the long-term effects of a project, and should be important considerations for the regulatory agency to include in their decision-making process.
The expert panel’s report is strikingly consistent with our recommendations. They also recommend dissolving the NEB, and giving the CEAA authority for all infrastructure environmental assessments regardless of the type of project being proposed. Rather than absorbing all the functions of the NEB into the CEAA, the panel recommends the creation of two new agencies: one to handle the licensing and transmission of energy (the Canadian Energy Transmission Commission, or CETC) and one to act as a cross-departmental hub of energy-related data (the Canadian Energy Information Agency, or CEIA). This division of functions is intended to increase the accountability of the regulatory process. The report emphasizes the need for land stewardship and ongoing assessment of the long-term health and impact a project may have on communities and the local environment.
The 26 recommendations (pdf) consistently centre transparency and accountability, and meaningful consultation with Indigenous communities and peoples is central to much of the report. The process the expert panel envisioned is collaborative, and involves including Indigenous communities from the earliest stages of the decision making process. It may not be the most efficient model, and certainly having with several agencies work on one project assessment involves a lot of co-ordination. However, the panel feels that this model is both more accountable and more robust, and will lead to better decisions being made.
Evidence for Democracy is pleased with this report, and encourage the government to enact the panel’s recommendations. Since their recommendations amount to a significant overhaul of how energy projects are assessed, the government is welcoming feedback on the report. Canadians and organizations can submit responses until June 14th, 2017.