Barrier to public participation in upcoming pipeline hearings

By Environmental Defence & Greenpeace Canada

Friday, April 05, 2013

Read this blog post on the originating site

Toronto, ON – New undemocratic rules are creating a barrier to public participation in upcoming National Energy Board (NEB) hearings into the proposal for Enbridge’s Line 9 oil pipeline. For the first time, members of the public who want to send a letter with comments to the NEB about a pipeline project must first apply for permission to participate – by filling out a 10-page form that includes a request for a resume and references.

This problematic new process stems from federal Bill C-38 – the omnibus budget bill last spring that gutted federal environmental laws. Enbridge’s proposal for its Line 9 pipeline could allow dangerous tar sands oil to be shipped east through an aging pipeline that crosses some of the most heavily populated parts of Ontario and Quebec. This is the first new pipeline proposal to be up for approval since Bill C-38 passed last year.

“The new rules are undemocratic. They attempt to restrict the public’s participation in these hearings and prevent a real dialogue about the environmental impacts of the Line 9 pipeline project,” said Adam Scott of Environmental Defence. “Canadians should not have to apply for permission to have their voices heard on projects that carry serious risks to their communities.”

Under the new rules, any Ontario resident who lives along the 639-km pipeline route who wants to send in a letter about their concerns must first apply to the NEB for permission to send in a letter. As of today, the public will have just two weeks to fill out a 10-page form which asks for a resume and references.

“Since when does someone’s resume determine if they have the right to be concerned about what’s happening in their home community?” said Keith Stewart of Greenpeace Canada. “Anyone who lives and works in southern Ontario could be affected by a spill and everyone is affected by climate change. The right to send a letter of comment and have it considered by public agencies is part of the basic rights and freedoms Canadians enjoy.”

Line 9 runs directly through the most populated part of the country, through backyards, under farms and next to schools. The pipeline crosses every Canadian river flowing into Lake Ontario, threatening the drinking water of millions.

The new rules for public participation include:

Members of the public must ‘apply for permission’ just to send in a letter.

Participants are limited to those who are ‘directly affected’, or have ‘relevant information’ neither of which are clearly defined.

There is only a two-week window for the public to apply to participate, after which members of the public will be excluded from the hearing process. This means that if a resident along the route finds out about the project after that window, they have no voice.

Applicants are asked to provide qualifications, such as a resume or reference letter.

The application form is 10 pages long.

The application is very difficult to find online.

The basis on which participants will be rejected or accepted is unclear.

In addition to the new barriers for public participation, Enbridge’s proposal won’t undergo an environmental assessment, also thanks to Bill C-38 which gutted environmental laws.

Last week Environmental Defence, Greenpeace Canada and the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment sent a letter to Ontario Minister of the Environment Jim Bradley requesting that the Province order its own environmental assessment because the federal government is failing to do one. Only through a provincial review will the public have a chance to be consulted, and the full risks to drinking water fully understood.

Until last year, the federal government reviewed roughly 6,000 projects per year through environmental assessment. Under the new rules, this number is predicted to be less than 40.

“It’s clear that the province needs to step in to ensure a fair and open process that will protect the best interest of Ontario residents and our shared environment,” said Adam Scott of Environmental Defence.

About ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENCE (www.environmentaldefence.ca):  Environmental Defence is Canada’s most effective environmental action organization. We challenge, and inspire change in government, business and people to ensure a greener, healthier and prosperous life for all.

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For more information, or to arrange interviews, please contact:

Naomi Carniol, Environmental Defence, (416) 323-9521 ext. 258; (416) 570-2878 (cell) ncarniol@environmentaldefence.ca

Keith Stewart, Greenpeace Canada, (416) 659-0294 (cell)