Politicians need to take account for their role in encouraging the opponents of industrial projects
Crowley: Politicians may have poisoned the well for Energy East
By R.P. Stastny
Aug. 11, 2016, 8:03 a.m.
As the National Energy Board (NEB) begins public hearings into TransCanada’s proposed Energy East pipeline project, politicians need to take account for their role in encouraging the opponents of industrial projects, says Brian Lee Crowley, managing director of Macdonald-Laurier Institute, a non-partisan, independent national public policy think tank in Ottawa.
“To some extent, [politicians] will find that they have poisoned the well,” he says. “We’ve seen that in the reaction to the efforts by the NDP in Alberta in trying to remove some of the opposition to the oilsands—a cap on oilsands emissions, a higher carbon price, etc…But as far as I can make out, it’s had absolutely no effect in winning social license or the lessening the opposition to building pipelines to move Canada’s energy resources.”
Crowley, who in 2014 authored a column in national Canadian media on how the Energy East pipeline would offer Canadians access to new international markets, says that the federal Liberals, the Alberta NDP and the Green Party have all contributed to an atmosphere of distrust of Canada’s regulatory regime for the approval of pipelines, which is in actuality possibly the best in the world.
“We have people coming from all over the world to learn from us because we do it so well,” Crowley says.
“It has taken us decades to get a sound process in place, and having the politicians contribute to the attack on this regulatory process, which is supposed to be independent of politics, I think is a real serious strategic error.”
Public hearings and regulatory processes have become more politicized and social media has helped opponents of industrial projects to take advantage these processes. The Northern Gateway proposal, for example, had people from as far away as Brazil requesting to be heard by the National Energy Board, Crowley says.
“They were basically trying to overload the capacity of the NEB to hear these submissions. The purpose of these hearings is to determine whether or not the pipeline proposals meet the standards that are established by Canada for safe pipelines, yet [some opponents] want to come before the NEB to talk about why we shouldn’t use fossil fuels.”
Contrary to Stephen Harper’s critics, Crowley believes recent reforms the previous Conservative federal government made to the regulatory processes, such as the grouping of similar arguments, are a good thing.
“Opponents now say they are being shut out and not being heard, but grouping similar testimony is a very legitimate approach to providing testimony so that [the NEB doesn’t] have to hear endless repetition of the same argument,” he says. “It’s supposed to be an evidence-based procedure with expert witnesses examining the proposal on an objective arms length independent scientific basis.”
As the federal Liberals and Alberta’s NDP settle into office, they will have to deal with the consequences of pipeline construction gridlock and that “is going to haunt them,” Crowley says.
“At some point, politicians will have to decide if they are in favour of thoughtfully designed, well-regulated pipelines or whether they are going to throw their lot in with those who are simply opposed in principle to pipelines. There’s no longer any middle ground.”