Ottawa biggest roadblock to easing pipeline’s effects: panel

Proposed federal changes to a report on the Mackenzie Valley gas pipeline will weaken environmental protection and fail to ensure that northerners enjoy maximum benefits from the project, says the panel that reviewed the project.

Proposed federal changes to a report on the Mackenzie Valley gas pipeline will weaken environmental protection and fail to ensure that northerners enjoy maximum benefits from the project, says the panel that reviewed the project.

In a rejoinder to the federal government’s initial response to the report, the project’s Joint Review Panel refused to back off from any of the 176 recommendations it deemed necessary to mitigate the impacts of the $16-billion pipeline.

The 16-page document says Environment Canada has rejected many of the suggestions most necessary to monitor the cumulative effects of the pipeline, which is expected to open up the western Arctic to development. As well, many recommendations accepted in principle have been weakened by removing any commitment to follow through.

“In the absence of implementation of its recommendations, in particular those recommendations directed to the governments, the adverse impacts of the project could be significant and its contribution toward sustainability could be negative.”

Environment Canada was not immediately available for comment.

The panel released its 700-page report in December after months of hearings throughout the Northwest Territories and years of delay. That report concluded the pipeline’s impacts wouldn’t be significant — if the panel’s recommendations were followed.

In mid-August, the federal government responded, although that response was never made public.

According to the panel, the territorial and federal governments propose to reject 28 recommendations directed at them. Another 87 would either be accepted or accepted in principle.

But the panel notes “that the governments have qualified their acceptance of some recommendations to such as extent that the difference between ’accept the intent’ and outright rejection is not easy to discern.”

Ottawa has said many of the rejected recommendations, such as those concerning greenhouse gases and monitoring of cumulative effects, were outside the panel’s jurisdiction. The panel counters by saying it was asked to look not only at the specific effects of the project, but also at any development it would spur.

“The government’s conclusions fail to recognize the likely longer-term cumulative impacts resulting from a range of possible future developments that are likely and reasonably foreseeable.”

The panel also says the federal response contains few guarantees and funding promises for environmental research and ongoing monitoring. It lacks commitments to send resource royalties to the territorial government to fund an expected heavier demands on health, social and justice programs.

The panel wants an independent agency to monitor how well the governments keep their environmental and social promises. Ottawa’s response contains only a vague promise to “endeavour to track” such efforts.

That statement, the panel writes, “only serves to reinforce … concerns that led it to make (the) recommendations in the first place.”

The report concludes by saying industry’s plans to mitigate the pipeline impacts are fine — it’s the government that is laggard.

The panel’s complete report and the government’s response will be included in the National Energy Board’s final recommendation to cabinet on whether the pipeline should go ahead. That decision is expected to be announced in the coming weeks.

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