Energy East Wrap-Up: Just Don’t Say “Yes”

The aim of this series of articles was to demonstrate to the public and local government the scale and scope of deeply concerning issues surrounding Energy East. It was started following the Sustainable North Grenville deposition to Council on September 19 where we were shocked to hear that Staff was winding up their research and Council had no plans for public engagement. Then days later Mayor Gordon led County Council to sign a letter of support for Energy East. We had even less confidence that reason was holding sway or that processes would be transparent in North Grenville.

While there is still so much more to say and write about our grave concerns with Energy East, two months and six columns later there are still no signs that Council wishes to look further into them, nor to undertake a transparent process that weighs our risks and benefits.

Accordingly, let’s use this final column to make one last request and to suggest some reading and reflection on the issue. There are three very recently published and relevant documents that outline rational approaches to managing such an issue; one that so many of us are concerned about.

The first is a letter from Robyn Allan – economist and former President and CEO of the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia – to the Minister of Natural Resources Canada (NR Can). Independent analysis led her to inform the Minister that he had been misled by departmental staffing that is “riddled with factual and analytical mistakes” where it concerns the need for further pipeline capacity. Robyn’s letter thoughtfully points out where the logic was broken and how “the facts show that instead of a requirement for a million barrels a day of new capacity by 2020, there exists sufficient oil export capacity on existing transportation infrastructure for Western Canadian crude until at least 2025, and likely beyond.”

The second is an open letter to the Prime Minister signed by over 1,300 researchers and led by Aerin Jacob. They are concerned that “current environmental assessments and regulatory decision-making processes lack scientific rigour”, with concomitant “significant consequences for the health and environment of all Canadians”. They recommend five actions to help rebuild public trust in robust, open, and fair decision-making. Despite the very short nature of this letter, its recommendations are extremely relevant and a minimum standard that we should expect for governance in North Grenville. They are worthy of repeating: (1) seek and act on the best available evidence; (2) make all information from environmental assessments permanently and publicly available; (3) assess cumulative environmental effects from past, present, and future projects and activities across multiple scales; (4) work to prevent and eliminate real, apparent, or potential conflicts-of-interest by requiring public disclosure; (5) develop explicit decision-making criteria and provide full, transparent rationale of factors considered. The takeaway: transparent, sharing processes to support inclusive evidence-based decision-making.

The third document is the “Report from the Ministerial Panel for the Trans Mountain Expansion Project”. In many ways Energy East and Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Expansion (TMX) projects are in competition with each other: both propose a pipeline to tidewater for diluted bitumen (dilbit) and both proposals were in-play when Trudeau’s Liberals came to power. As well, both reviews were allowed to continue under existing National Energy Board (NEB) processes despite their lack of comprehensiveness and a promised review of the NEB (to support this point, the NEB is now in a state of upheaval following the stepping down of Senior Chairs and the complete Energy East panel for perceptions of conflict of interest). Yet further, both Energy East and TMX raise similar concerns in regions they pass through and both are the subject of additional Ministerial reviews to partially address process deficiencies; this report being the product of one of them. What makes this reading of greatest import is that it reflects the kind of consultation and contemplation one would expect of municipal leadership in North Grenville.

Interestingly, the TMX review does not conclude with recommendations. Instead it offers six very high level and fundamental questions that, if considered carefully, help to resolve issues surrounding the project. The report also lists many of the same concerns that residents of North Grenville have expressed.

I suggest one more “bonus” item of reading: ideas that will help fill the void left by the questions the TMX review poses. They are provided by Eugene Kung, a legal expert on such issues and Staff Counsel to West Coast Environmental Law.

I now close the circle of this series by returning to what was self-evident in the beginning: if Staff and Council do not have the competency or capacity to determine what is in our collective best interest on an issue that is not within their authority to act upon, then there is no rationale for a declaration of support for this pipeline. It is even truer if Council refuses to consider the full scope of our concerns. After all, there is nothing to gain and so much to lose by angering a significant and very worried number of residents. Sustainable North Grenville’s advice to Council on 19 September remains steadfast: just don’t say “yes” to Energy East.


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