The National Energy Board has come under fire for restricting the number of people permitted to participate in the review process for the proposed Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project in British Columbia.
More than 2,100 individuals, aboriginal groups, companies and organizations applied to participate in the coming hearings, which will examine the suitability of a project that will twin an existing line, increasing capacity from 300,000 to 890,000 barrels of oil per day.
In announcing the list of participants Wednesday, the NEB stated it "considered each application and has determined that 400 will participate as intervenors and 1,250 as commenters."
That might sound like a lot of people got approved, said NDP MP Kennedy Stewart, whose Burnaby riding will be crossed by the expanded pipeline. He thinks far too many got rejected or got limited status.
"They said 78 per cent of people who applied were accepted. That I think is deceptive because although perhaps of the total 78 per cent were not kicked out of the process, many were downgraded from intervenors to commentators," said Mr. Stewart. "If you applied to be an intervenor, you can call witnesses, you can make oral statements, you can submit evidence. But if you are downgraded to a commentator, you can only send a single letter."
Mr. Stewart said his office has already been getting calls from people who feel they've been unfairly shut out.
"A whole bunch of people who are land owners along the pipeline route applied to be intervenors and they were excluded from the process," he said. "So their house could be expropriated or there could be a right-of-entry to put a pipeline right through their property and they can't even send a single letter to the National Energy Board."
Mr. Stewart accused the NEB of unfairly rushing the process, saying, "They are really trying to go under the radar with this $5-billion, 1,000-kilometre-long pipeline, hoping nobody is going to notice."
Caitlyn Vernon, campaigns director for Sierra Club BC, said the NEB decision to reject so many applicants "is profoundly undemocratic … [and is] deliberately designed to silence the legitimate voices of British Columbians."
Christianne Wilhelmson, executive director of Georgia Strait Alliance, said too many people were "downgraded" to commentators when they had sought intervenor status.
Scott Stoness, Kinder Morgan vice-president, said in an e-mail the company is "pleased that the NEB determined our application was complete" and is looking forward to the next steps in the regulatory process.