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Joint Review Panel has little over a year to decide fate of Northern Gateway

The Conservative government takes another step towards their goal of ensuring "timely" environmental assessments. The fate of Enbridge's Northern Gateway pipeline will be decided by the end of next year. 

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Federal Environment Minister Peter Kent and Chair of the National Energy Board Gaétan Caron issued a letter to the Joint Review Panel overseeing the Enbridge Northern Gateway project hearings with a firm deadline of December 31st, 2013 to decide the fate of the embattled Northern Gateway project

The letter stated that a firm deadline for the completion of their review has been set as part of requirements of the federal government's budget bill C-38 passed in June 2012. 

The 400 page omnibus bill, also known as the Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity Act, made changes to over 70 laws, including 170 pages of amendments on the environmental assessment process.The government argued that the changes would speed up the regulatory review process for large resource projects and provide more timely and predictable outcomes for investors

Who gets the final say?

According to its official website, the Joint Review Panel is “an independent body, mandated by the Minister of the Environment and the National Energy Board.”

The three-person panel is charged with conducting a thorough review of the project under both the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and the National Energy Board Act. They head the public hearings taking place across BC where citizens, First Nations, environmental groups and experts testify and provide evidence regarding the projects potential socio-economic and environmental impacts. Under changes to the panel’s mandate issued today, the panel cannot reject the pipeline project for environmental reasons alone.

After reviewing evidence, the panel will make a final recommendation to the federal government on whether or not the project should go through. 

However, the weight of that recommendation has been called into question given strong support for the project by Prime Minister Stephen Harper who has labelled opponents of the project “radicals.” 

After the panel submits its final recommendation, the federal government will decide the fate of the pipeline project before the end of June 2014. 

Enbridge defends safety record but still faces inspection from NEB

Enbridge president Al Monaco defended the company’s safety record today in a press release, urging people to look beyond the latest headlines and recognize that for 60 years they’ve successfully operated one of the largest and most complex pipeline system in the world. 

“We invested about $400 million to ensure the safety and integrity of our system, and that amount is set to increase substantially – to more than $800 million -- in 2012,” he said.

But despite such pleas and efforts, a dysfunctional oil spill response in Michigan two years ago continues to put the company’s safety standards into the spotlight. 

The NEB issued a letter to Enbridge chief executive officer Patrick D. Daniel on 26 July notifying him of an upcoming inspection of their control room in Edmonton on August 8th and 9th in light of a damning report by the US Transportation Safety Board. The full findings of that report will be released in the next few weeks, but after the US regulator concluded Enbridge’s handling of the spill resembled a slapstick comedy about incompetent policemen known as the Keystone Cops, the NEB isn’t waiting for any more reasons to look into Enbridge’s safety operations. 

“Pipeline safety is and always has been of paramount concern to the National Energy Board and we recognize it is of growing concern to Canadians,” Caron stated in a press release

“Given recent events, it is important that Canadians understand how we hold companies accountable for public safety and protection of the environment and take swift and appropriate action when they do not.”

The NEB will be looking into whether pipeline requirements are being met, including ongoing precautionary pressure restrictions. The NTSB investigation found that during the Michigan oil spill, Enbridge employees in the control room mistook the spill for an air bubble and increased the pressure and amount of oil pumping through the pipeline. As a result, three million litres of oil spilled into the Kalamazoo River. 

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