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Kinder Morgan hearing denies or downgrades nearly half of applicants

Photo by Jenny Uechi

Nearly a thousand people and organizations that applied to speak out at the upcoming federal review of the proposed Kinder Morgan oil sands pipeline expansion project will literally not have their voices heard.

That's because on Wednesday, the National Energy Board said it downgraded or rejected nearly half of the applicants who applied to the upcoming hearing to review the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion project from Edmonton-to-Burnaby.

“It’s a sad day for democracy in Canada, when nearly a thousand people who stepped up to take part in a complex regulatory process to have their say about a project of national significance are shut out of the hearings," wrote Christianne Wilhelmson with the Georgia Strait Alliance in a statement.

The $5 billion project will pump nearly 900,000 barrels of oil sands bitumen per day on to super tankers in the Burrard Inlet at Burnaby, that will pass Stanley Park and outward to the southwest B.C. coastal waters for export.

Controversially, it will also disturb the personal properties of many residents.  Many complain their home values have plummeted.

Unlike the Joint Review Panel of the Northern Gateway Project that saw thousands speak up at hearings in B.C. communities big and small, no oral presentations will be allowed with the Kinder Morgan review unless you are an intervenor -- someone with the legal status to cross-examine.  It's a role that often falls to a lawyer.

The only other status that one could have applied for was written commentator - meaning you can write a letter, not speak to the federal reviewers.

"A letter of comment can be a very useful tool for providing the Panel with valuable information.  Commenters are not restricted to a page or two, they can include photos or reports," said NEB spokeswoman Sarah Kiley from Calgary.

The changes are a direct result of recent Harper government omnibus legislation, designed to streamline the approval process into a faster result for major resource projects.

Then Conservative Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver wrote in an open letter in 2012 that “environmental and other radical groups” were using regulatory hearings to frustrate and cause unnecessary delays.

“These groups threaten to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda.  They seek to exploit any loophole they can find, stacking public hearings with bodies to ensure that delays kill good projects,” wrote Oliver, who has since become finance minister.

Texas-based Kinder Morgan had its lawyers actively apply to remove participants that did not fit the regulatory requirement of being "directly affected" by the pipeline.  

Climate change experts, for instance, were sent letters saying they did not have expertise relevant to direct impacts from the fossil fuels pipeline.

"If an application raised matters that are outside of our mandate, such as climate change or oil sands development, the applicant may have been turned down," wrote the National Energy Board.

452 people or groups that applied to be an intervenor were downgraded to only being able to provide a letter of comment.

468 were denied participation altogether.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson has ordered the City to speak out against the project as an intervenor.

"A seven-fold increase in oil tanker traffic through local waters presents unacceptable risks to Vancouver’s economy and environment, and the City of Vancouver will represent the people who live, work and own businesses in Vancouver by expressing these significant concerns,” said Robertson in a statement Wednesday.

The City of Burnaby is also expected to oppose the project. Mayor Derek Corrigan was pushing to have Kinder Morgan's whole application removed as incomplete, since it wasn't quite clear which route the pipeline was ultimately going to go through.

Aboriginal presentations to the hearing by intervenors will begin in August.  Other hearings start in January 2015.

Recently, a NEB panelist resigned from his post.  Critics said he was the only one with some environmental background, as a former representative of Ducks Unlimited.  He was replaced by Philip Davies, the former VP of Encana - a major oil and gas corporation.

The NEB said it is not for or against the project, and that its "unbiased" panelists will review Kinder Morgan's project based on the evidence and facts.

But Eoin Madden, with the Wilderness Committee, questions why vital decisions on critical issue such as climate change and energy are being consolidated within the NEB.

“It’s becoming more and more likely that the NEB is being granted all of this decision making power over our future, especially over our carbon pollution, because the federal government considers it a friendly forum,” said Madden Thursday.

The board added that anyone who is unhappy with the Board's decision regarding their level of participation can put forward a motion for reconsideration.

With files from Jenny Uechi

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