Report to Reform the NEB: Can this Horse run with the Cart before it?
Released on May 15, the Report of the National Energy Board (NEB) Modernization Expert Panel sets out to regain public confidence in how energy (mainly pipelines) is regulated nationally.
The Report does include recommendations that could partially achieve that goal, and significantly improve the role of the national energy regulator (to be known as the Canadian Energy Transmission Commission) in advancing sustainability. However, the recommendations also present a model for assessing energy projects that fails to meet the needs and interests of Canadians.
Of greatest concern is the Panel’s recommendation that the new law requires the federal Cabinet to make a political decision on whether or not a major energy project is in the national interest before an assessment is even commenced. This recommendation, ostensibly, aims to address the uncertainty of ultimate government approval after significant costs related to project assessment have already been incurred. Unfortunately, the Panel’s recommended solution puts the cart before the horse and is inconsistent with the purpose of environmental assessment. The federal government cannot be reasonably expected to know whether a proposed project is in the national interest if evidence about the project’s impacts on sustainability has not yet been presented or tested.
Other Panel recommendations are more helpful. Creating a federal energy strategy and the establishing an independent Canadian Energy Information Agency would provide the federal government with important tools for planning the transition to renewable energy and account for greenhouse gas emissions from energy projects and activities.
While much of the Report focused on assessments of future pipeline projects, the Panel astutely pointed out that the role of the national energy regulator must conform to Canada’s future energy landscapes. The Panel expects fewer pipeline projects in the future, “while the generation, transmission, and storage of electricity from a wider variety of sources will necessitate a modern transmission network that enables and captures the full value of renewables.”
The Panel’s recommendations regarding project assessments are, to say the least, unconvincing; however, the Report does compel us to envision a regulator for the future. While the recommendations regarding project assessments should be dismissed, the recommendations regarding the collection of energy-related information (including GHG emissions) and planning for a renewable energy future should be taken seriously and built upon.