The B.C. government will not exert its authority over the Kinder Morgan Inc. oil-pipeline proposal, despite a protracted battle with the energy company during the National Energy Board process.
After a respected intervenor quit the hearing in frustration, Environment Minister Mary Polak offered only tepid support for the federal review. "When it comes to public confidence, that's over to the NEB. We've certainly had our own issues with the process," Ms. Polak said Monday in an interview.
The province complained to the NEB in July that Kinder Morgan had not responded to many of its questions.
"That makes it difficult for the Province to evaluate whether the Trans Mountain Expansion project will include world-leading marine and land oil spill systems," the province stated in an official complaint to the NEB.
Marc Eliesen, a former chief executive officer of BC Hydro, said Monday he quit the hearing process for the same reason – the board has allowed Kinder Morgan to elude cross-examination and to refuse to answer questions. About 50 intervenors, including the province, challenged Kinder Morgan's responses to questions in roughly 2,000 instances. In a ruling in October, the NEB ordered the company to come up with more thorough answers in about 5 per cent of those cases.
"To me this is a farce: There is no way you can test the evidence if they won't answer the basic questions," Mr. Eliesen said in an interview. "Unfortunately, this board is not objective. This board is biased."
Mr. Eliesen called on the B.C. government to conduct a provincial environmental review independent of the federal process.
Andrew Weaver, the Green Party MLA and an intervenor in the Kinder Morgan hearing, called Mr. Eliesen one of the most credible intervenors, and echoed his demand that the province do its own review. "At some stage, you have to recognize that the federal process is simply stacked against British Columbians and the only way to change that is for our provincial government to step up and reclaim its right to have its own, made-in-B.C. hearing process."
The federal and provincial governments signed an equivalency agreement four years ago to send major pipeline and energy projects to the NEB, with final approval to be determined by the federal cabinet.
The province can tear up the agreement with a month's notice, but Ms. Polak said she will not opt out.
"We've always believed in one project, one process. It is an interprovincial pipeline so the federal government has a legitimate role," she said. "For us it's about presenting British Columbia's position," Ms. Polak later told reporters. "I don't see what we would accomplish by pulling out."
Ms. Polak suggested that the province did get its answers after pressing the NEB, but officials in her ministry clarified that some issues remain outstanding.
For example, Kinder Morgan refused to file their emergency spill response plans, citing proprietary and confidentiality issues. The NEB ruled in the province's favour on this matter and Kinder Morgan had to file documents on the record by Oct. 17. But the company filed redacted versions of the material.
The province still has the option of saying "no" to the project, as it did in the case of the Enbridge Northern Gateway proposal. That has little effect on the NEB process. The federal government has approved Enbridge pipeline – subject to more than 200 conditions – despite the B.C. government's objections.
Spencer Chandra-Herbert, the NDP environment critic, said the province needs to get off the sidelines. "What would it take for the province to finally get off its butt? Kinder Morgan has refused to answer question after question. How can the province assess risk when they don't have answers on matters like spill response capacity?"