First Nations demand halt to Energy East review over funding cut

Three New Brunswick First Nations are calling for a halt to preparations for review hearings on the Energy East pipeline project.

Woodstock, Madawaska and Tobique First Nations seek more funding for National Energy Board review of pipeline

The Energy East pipeline proposed route is pictured as TransCanada officials spoke to the media earlier this year. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

Three New Brunswick First Nations are calling for a halt to preparations for review hearings on the Energy East pipeline project.

The Woodstock, Madawaska and Tobique First Nations are upset participant funding for interveners has been cut.

The National Energy Board has chopped the maximum funding limit for groups wanting to intervene at the review hearings to $40,000 from $80,000. 

The announcement has Aboriginal groups and environmental organizations across Canada scrambling.

Renée Pelletier says several First Nations communities want to meet with the Crown regarding cuts to funding for intervenors in the NEB hearings on the Energy east pipeline. (Courtesy: Olthuis Kleer Townshend LLP)
The NEB funding allows interveners to hire scientists, prepare legal briefs and scrutinize documents produced by TransCanada and its supporters.

The pipeline would transport as much as 1.1 million barrels of oil per day from western Canada to eastern refineries and a marine terminal at Saint John's Canaport.

Renée Pelletier, a lawyer who is representing the three Maliseet First Nations, said the cut to participant funding for the regulatory review of the project is particularly egregious where First Nations are concerned.

"To actually participate in a proceeding of that magnitude for $40,000 is, frankly, ridiculous," said Pelletier, who is a managing partner at Olthuis Kleer Townshend LLP in Toronto. 

Pelletier says in the case of Energy East, the federal government has determined the National Energy Board review process will fulfill the constitutional duty to consult First Nations and to accommodate their concerns.

It feels like the National Energy Board are changing the rules half way through the game.- Stephanie Merrill, Conservation Council

Not doing so, warns Pelletier, would risk the entire project since First Nations in the Maritimes did not cede title to their lands or resources in treaties with the Crown. 

"The NEB process is meant to be the vehicle by which consultation with aboriginal communities will take place," said Pelletier.

"They have a constitutional duty, a constitutional obligation, which they have to meet and they're going to have to find the funding somewhere."

The First Nations have asked the Energy East Pipeline review process be put on hold until the issue of aboriginal consultation can be resolved and mechanisms put in place to ensure "adequate funding." The request was made in a letter to the NEB, the federal Department of Natural Resources and to TransCanada.

The National Energy Board received more than 1,800 applications for intervener status.

The National Energy Board received more than 1,800 applications for intervener status in the Energy East pipeline review. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)
And 135 of those requests came from groups that have also applied for participant funding.

Katherine Murphy, a spokesperson for the NEB, said in an email statement that "$40K is the maximum award amount (for groups) that would ensure funding is provided to all eligible interveners."

Murphy said the envelope for participant funding had already been doubled from $2.5 million to $5 million.

The NEB website still contains links to documents describing the two-phase process for participant funding. Each phase is described as having maximum funding allocations of $40,000 for an $80,000 total.

The dates and location for the hearings have not yet been set.

Conservation Council raises concerns

Stephanie Merrill, the acting executive director of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, said she also has concerns with the cut to funds for interveners. ((CBC))
Stephanie Merrill, the acting executive director of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, said First Nations aren't the only groups upset with the funding change.

"It feels like the National Energy Board are changing the rules half way through the game," said Merrill. 

Merrill says it will now be "very difficult" to hire experts and give them time to properly scrutinize the documents and research presented by TransCanada and pipeline advocates.

"Scientists of this calibre they work in university settings and they have a whole lifetime of experience under their belt," said Merrill.

"We certainly want to make sure that we're able to compensate them for their time."

The City of Saint John, for instance, has professional staff working on its intervener brief and has, in addition allotted $30,000 to hire Gaetan Caron, the former chair of the National Energy Board, as a consultant.

Although there will be space in the city brief to address public safety and environmental issues, a motion approved by city council last November will ensure it favours construction of the pipeline.

It declares the project is of "utmost importance" to the Saint John area.

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