The new Liberal government in Ottawa is clarifying its stance on the federal review of the Energy East pipeline, saying it will come up with a "transition strategy" while it rewrites national rules.

That clarification comes after federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna suggested the government would let the Alberta-to-Saint John pipeline go through the existing regulatory process that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau criticized just four months ago.

Before leaving for the Paris climate change summit, McKenna told reporters the promised new rules for pipeline reviews would apply only to new projects.

"Projects that have been initiated under the original system will continue on that path," she said Friday.

Catherine McKenna

Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna said new rules for pipeline reviews would apply only to new projects. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

That would likely mean Energy East would be examined under the existing rules created by the previous Conservative government.

But Caitlin Workman, McKenna's press secretary, said in an email from Paris that the Liberal overhaul to environmental regulations "would include a transition strategy for projects currently under review to provide some certainty to industry through this change process.‎"

Trudeau: NEB 'highly politicized'

In July, Trudeau told CBC's Information Morning Fredericton that the National Energy Board process was "highly politicized" by the Conservative government to the point "people are no longer trusting" the process.

Trudeau said at the time he could not be called a supporter of Energy East because of flaws in the regulatory process.

Justin Trudeau

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in July that the National Energy Board process "has been torqued and flawed by Mr. Harper." (CBC)

Trudeau argued that a more stringent review that took into account community input and First Nations perspectives would ultimately make it politically easier to convince the public that new pipelines make sense.

"The National Energy Board, actually, has been politically torqued by Mr. Harper," he said.

Workman said Monday Trudeau's July comments and the new minister's remarks Friday are "very much on the same page."

Ottawa committed to new process

"[The federal government] remains committed to modernizing the National Energy Board, ensuring that its composition reflects regional views and has sufficient expertise in fields such as environmental science, community development, and Indigenous traditional knowledge," she said.

Workman didn't offer a timeline for the changes.

New Brunswick Green Party Leader David Coon says Energy East is technically not before the National Energy Board yet because TransCanada Corp. has not finalized and submitted its proposal.

Even so, Coon said Monday, it's likely TransCanada will finalize its application before Ottawa can change any legislation.

If the Liberals are serious about fixing the federal process, "they're going to have to do a major re-write," Coon said.

"It's not possible to tweak it and do anything meaningful."

While McKenna told reporters Friday that existing rules would apply, she said "there needs to be public trust in terms of any project that goes forward."

"It's unclear what that means," Coon said, if Energy East were to be reviewed under Conservative-crafted rules.