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Kinder Morgan's Westridge Marine Terminal is pictured in Burnaby, B.C., on Wednesday February 19, 2014. The company is arguing for a narrow interpretation of who can take part in a review of its Trans Mountain pipeline project.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

Lawyers working for Kinder Morgan Inc. have sent a letter to the National Energy Board proposing the narrowest interpretation of who can participate in a review of the company's proposed twinning of the Trans Mountain pipeline.

The 15-page legal letter, which was sent in late February, was copied to the thousands of people who have applied to be part of the review process, a move opponents of the pipeline liken to "bullying." For most of the more than 2,300 applicants, the letter was the first response they had received since applying.

"That wasn't exactly a very warm welcome," said Michael Byers, the Canada Research Chair in Global Politics and International Law, based at the University of British Columbia.

From the beach near his home on Salt Spring Island, Dr. Byers can see oil tankers in the Haro Strait. Within a few years, the number of tankers could increase seven-fold if the pipeline linking Burnaby to northern Alberta is expanded. He is an expert on international law, and this is his first application to a review process.

"For those thousands of well-meaning groups and individuals who applied in this consultative process, the only feedback so far has been a letter from lawyers essentially making the argument about why they shouldn't be allowed to appear. That's not a great first step," he said.

Lesley Matthews, a regulatory leader for the project, said Kinder Morgan is committed to a "fair, reasonable and efficient review process."

She said the letter was sent to help the NEB decide who should have a voice at proceedings.

In late 2013, the company said it expects a 15-month review by the NEB.

After the four-year review of Enbridge Inc.'s Northern Gateway pipeline proposal, legislation passed in 2012 gave the federal regulator a more restrictive mandate for hearings. Interested parties must prove that they would be directly affected or have relevant expertise to make a presentation.

Dr. Byers said Kinder Morgan's letter advocates a very narrow reading of the law.

The letter proposes that the NEB define someone with "relevant information" as an expert with both information and expertise, and that the NEB still reject them if what they offer is not unique. It would limit "directly affected" to a personal and rather than professional interest. And it calls on the NEB to follow a previous policy of not considering climate change or the impact of the Alberta's energy industry in decisions.

NEB spokeswoman Sarah Kiley said sending a letter to all applicants is without precedent. However, she added, the pipeline is one of the first major projects to fall under the new rules.

Among those who want to participate is Kennedy Stewart, a Burnaby-based New Democrat MP.

Unlike other pipelines that run through largely rural areas, Mr. Stewart said the expansion of Kinder Morgan's 61-year-old pipeline would go through some of the most densely inhabited parts of the Lower Mainland.

"It goes right under the middle of buildings, co-ops, schools," he said. "Many of my constituents didn't think this would go through. They didn't think it was real. That's why this participating process is a shame. It was launched without fanfare, in what I think was an attempt to keep the public out."

The NEB turned down a recent attempt by Mr. Stewart to reopen the application process. The period for applying was Jan. 15 to Feb. 12. Along with many of Mr. Stewart's constituents, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency missed the NEB's deadline.

"Those who did apply feel that Kinder Morgan is bullying them," he said. "Those who have just learned about it are upset that they can't apply."

With thousands of people calling the offices of local parliamentarians, Dr. Byers said Kinder Morgan's "fairly aggressive" strategy could fail if it shuts some people out and does not win widespread popular support.

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