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What caused the death of TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline proposal? Some say it was government and the regulatory process, some blame the economy and others the environmentalists.
Two clear facts seem to stand apart from the noise. First, in August, the National Energy Board announced a widening of the scope of its review of the Energy East proposal. Second, environmental groups are celebrating the cancellation of the Energy East project, and taking some credit for killing it.
In February of 2017, the Council of Canadians issued a media release calling for a major overhaul of the NEB, the federal body charged with regulation of interprovincial pipelines; the Council cited what it called a “crisis of confidence.” In a May report, a federal advisory panel mandated to review the NEB used the same phrase: crisis of confidence. Subsequent media reports lent further weight and credibility to the idea that the NEB does not have the public’s trust.
Environmentalists played a role in lobbying for the NEB to expand its review of the Energy East proposal to include upstream and downstream climate-change impacts, and applauded that decision when it was announced. The environmental lobby does appear justified, then, in taking at least some credit for derailing the Energy East project’s movement through the NEB’s regulatory process. But was this a case of the tail wagging the dog, as environmentalists defined the terms of the discussion, while the broader public went unheard?
According to our most recent Canadian Environmental Barometer survey (completed in September), roughly two-thirds of Canadians support a proposed pipeline to Eastern Canada and almost six in 10 support the continued development of the oil sands. These levels are highest in the three Prairie provinces and lowest in Quebec, the only region where there is majority opposition. The proposal to convert existing pipe to transport oil east for refining and export has consistently enjoyed more public support than other options such as a pipeline south to the United States (i.e., Keystone XL) or a pipeline west (i.e., the now-rejected Northern Gateway pipeline and/or the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain expansion).
It may be true that the NEB has challenges, but among the Canadian public, a lack of awareness about the Board is more widespread than a lack of confidence
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