During the recent federal election campaign, Justin Trudeau promised that he would cancel all existing pipeline reviews before the NEB and force them to restart under new rules.

The Liberal government has come under heavy fire for a seeming reversal on that promise, with Environment Minister Catherine McKenna stating in November that “projects initiated under the original system will continue on that path.”

In response to criticism, the government announced today that it will add additional regulatory requirements to the process, within the existing review process.

The promise of imminent changes to the process has left many observers asking why NEB hearings are proceeding at this time.

Pipeline projects betray climate promise

Along with other interveners, May expressed concerns about flawed evidence, inadequate oil spill response plans, lack of meaningful consultation with First Nations, and unacceptable risks posed to local wildlife.

May also criticized the exclusion of climate change from the NEB’s list of considerations, calling it “an egregious mistake.” Emphasizing Canada’s ambitious climate commitments in the recently concluded Paris Agreement, she said they require “moving away from fossil fuels as quickly as possible,” an imperative that new pipeline infrastructure would undermine.

“There’s no question that expanding pipeline capacity to export raw bitumen increases greenhouse gas emissions in Canada,” May told reporters.

If approved, the Kinder Morgan expansion would triple the capacity of the existing Trans Mountain pipeline, allowing 890,000 barrels of refined petroleum and crude oil to move from the Alberta tar sands to the Westridge Marine Terminal in Burnaby each day. The expansion would also see the number of tankers operating in Burrard Inlet increase from five to 34 tankers per month.

Concern over environmental danger, particularly around rising tanker traffic, has galvanized opposition from local governments. In her summary, May encouraged the board to “take careful stock” of such opposition in its consideration of the project. Burnaby, Vancouver, North Vancouver, and West Vancouver are among the municipalities positioned against the project, alongside B.C.’s provincial government and a number of First Nations.

May pointed out that despite strong local engagement around the pipeline, her plea echoed around an almost empty conference room. “It is outrageous that at a public hearing the public isn’t allowed in the room,” May told reporters. “This level of security doesn’t exist at the Supreme Court of Canada.”

Public left out in the rain

This sentiment was echoed outside the hearing, where Laura Track of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association called on the NEB to open the hearings to the public.

A huddle of umbrellas formed around Track as she spoke to a crowd of community members who had been unable to access the hearings.

“The fact that these hearings have been closed to interested participants, who have been congregating outside in the rain, unable to access the hearings while there are rows and rows of empty seats, to us is potentially unlawful,” she told reporters.

Track referred to the “open courts principle” in Canadian law, which requires procedures of justice to be open to the public.

The NEB says that restrictions on public access are a means of ensuring a fair, efficient, and safe process for participants. It provided a live-stream of the proceedings, which was viewed today by over 200 people.

But Track finds the restrictions and heightened security unjustified. “Why do they need so much security, particularly when so much of the public has been excluded from participating at all?”

The Burnaby NEB hearings on the Trans Mountain pipeline proposal continue until Jan. 29.