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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Federal Government does away with Joint Review Panel for NEB Act projects

The National Energy Board has announced that it will be conducting all environmental assessments under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA) of projects that fall within its jurisdiction.  The federal government has ordered the move in an effort to streamline the oil and gas project approval process.  Previously, the government, on its own initative or in response to a request by the NEB, could order that a joint review panel be established to review certain projects.  The joint review panel would consist of persons who "are unbiased and free from any conflict of interest relative to the project and who have knowledge or experience relevant to the anticipated environmental effects of the project"

What changes for landowners?  Not much.  In practice Joint Review Panels have consisted mainly of members of the NEB and have been appointed only in a very limited number of projects.  Limited funding for participation in the Joint Review Panel process has been available, and the NEB suggests that it will continue to be available, but gives few details:
A participant funding program is being established which will provide financial assistance to support the timely and meaningful engagement of Aboriginal groups, landowners, Environmental Non-Government Organisations, and other interested parties in the regulatory review processes for major projects. The NEB participant funding program is being modeled on the existing CEA Agency program. [emphasis added]
No funding is available for landowner participation in the Board's regulatory review process of projects that are deemed not to be "major".  For instance, for pipeline projects where less than 75 km of the proposed line is not adjacent to an existing utility corridor or road, the only way landowners can gain access to funding under CEAA is if the government (through request by the NEB) refers the project to a joint review panel.  Neither the NEB nor the government have been receptive to requests for referral and, not surprisingly, very few proposed projects end up with more than 75 km of "new" pipeline (even those where the total length of the project exceeds 1000 km). 

Read the NEB announcement at: NEB Environmental Assessment.