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British Columbia B.C. decries new, quicker National Energy Board process for Trans Mountain pipeline project

Pipes are seen at the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain facility in Edmonton, Alta., April 6, 2017.

JONATHAN HAYWARD/THE CANADIAN PRESS

British Columbia's Environment Minister is denouncing a new National Energy Board process for resolving permit disputes related to Kinder Morgan Canada's Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project, saying his government is looking at legal options to challenge it.

On Friday, George Heyman said he has long been skeptical about whether the board is mindful of B.C. interests, but the new process impinges on B.C. jurisdiction.

The energy board ruled this week that it will consider future disputes between the company and provincial and municipal authorities, then provide a response within three to five weeks, providing a "measure of certainty" for all parties. Mr. Heyman says this process doesn't give B.C. enough opportunity to make its case.

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The announcement came a day after Kinder Morgan said the opening of the expanded pipeline would be delayed until December, 2020, while it tries to obtain permits.

But Mr. Heyman said "there's absolutely no evidence" that the province is dragging its feet on permits.

"We have conditions and requirements just like the NEB has and it's Kinder Morgan's job to report what they are going to do to meet them. They don't get to short-circuit that process except now they do because the NEB has decided that getting this project done in Kinder Morgan's time frame is more important that defending B.C.'s interests. We disagree," Mr. Heyman said in an interview.

"The National Energy Board has gone ahead and set up a process that allows Kinder Morgan to bypass B.C.'s rights to conduct and ensure that our permitting process protects our environment."

The minister said B.C. will consider all its legal options, including an appeal. He referred The Globe to the Attorney-General's office for details on the legal possibilities, but the ministry did not have any immediate comment on the matter.

While the project has federal approvals, Burnaby last year refused to issue key construction permits, forcing Kinder Morgan to appeal to the NEB for permission to proceed with its work. The company won that appeal in December.

The NEB said it hopes the new process, which was requested by Kinder Morgan, will be used sparingly and that all participants will approach future permitting in good faith, noting that the company must comply with all local laws.

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B.C.'s anger comes days ahead of NEB hearings beginning next week in Burnaby on the pipeline expansion, effectively a twinning of an existing line from Alberta's energy heartland to the British Columbia coast.

The Trans Mountain expansion, which would nearly triple capacity to 890,000 barrels per day, is hotly opposed by environmental groups, the province of British Columbia, and some local municipalities, including the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby, where the pipeline ends.

Despite its opposition to the project, the NDP government has ruled out using permits as a means to prevent the expansion of the pipeline – a policy that Mr. Heyman repeated on Friday.

"We have a responsibility not to unduly delay permits, but to ensure that the permit applications meet appropriate standards and that the proponent does the work they have to do to deal with First Nations and ensure that First Nations' concerns are met, and that they meet environmental safeguards," he said.

Asked for comment on Mr. Heyman's remarks, Kinder Morgan referred to a previous statement that quoted Ian Anderson, president of Kinder Morgan Canada Ltd., as saying he is pleased with the "open, fair" NEB process because it provides certainty for parties.

"Kinder Morgan is committed to continuing to work with local authorities in good faith and will be reviewing the decision in more detail," the statement said.

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"Timely execution of the project is necessary for Trans Mountain to provide the needed transportation capacity to access global oil markets and maximize related economic benefits to all Canadians including local, regional and Aboriginal communities."

With a report from Reuters

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