March 26, 1998
The Honorable Christine Stewart
Minister of the Environment
Edifice de Parliament
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6
RE: Environmental assessment of the TQM PNGTS Extension natural gas pipeline project.
Dear Ms. Stewart,
We are writing to you once again concerning the TQM PNGTS Extension natural gas pipeline project and the way that the National Energy Board of Canada and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency are handling the environmental assessment of this proposed project.
We think that it is important that you are aware that the CEAA's public notices calling for public commentary on the NEB's Comprehensive Study Report were not published in our local English press (The Record, Sherbrooke, QC and The Stanstead Journal, Stanstead, QC) until the 4th of March and that they erroneously gave the deadline for comments as the 16th of March. Furthermore, no attempts were made to correct the errors. This means that a large segment of the population affected directly or indirectly by this project had only twelve days to submit their comments. How does this square with the CEAA's own guidelines which state:
"The Agency has not adopted strict deadlines for the provision of public comments on the report. In most cases, the review and comment period will be 30 to 45 days long. Deadlines will be established by the Agency officer in consultation with the responsible authority, taking into account the scale and complexity of the proposed project, the level of public interest, and the nature and extent of any public consultations held during the preparation of the comprehensive study report."
This is a large-scale project, Ms Stewart, it would affect a lot of land and a lot of people and it commands a great deal of public interest in our region. In spite of this the Agency and the NEB decided that a mere twelve days was sufficient for the public to respond. We don't think that this is right and we don't think that it is in keeping with the spirit of the Agency's published guidelines.
"In developing a public involvement program, responsible authorities should ensure that members of the public have adequate time in which to review information and provide meaningful input into the environmental assessment process."
"Public involvement is a central element of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (the Act). The importance and function of public involvement is cited in both the preamble and purpose of the Act"
"Over time, a visible commitment to effective public involvement can help build a sense of public trust and credibility in the responsible authority's decisions, and reduce the possibility that public concerns will lead to costly delays in project approvals and implementation."
In its report on the PNGTS Extension early public notification program, TQM told the NEB that, apart from Bruce Miller and Guy Fortier, there was no opposition to this project. We must say quite frankly, Ms Stewart, that this was, and is, a bold lie. The truth is that the population of the Memphremagog and Coaticook MRC's has been overwhelmingly opposed to this project as proposed from the very beginning. We should also add that elected representatives at every level of government, from the municipalities and MRC's to Québec and Canadian members of parliament have repeatedly and unwaveringly echoed the concerns of the citizens.
So the question is, why is the CEAA and the NEB making such great efforts to push through this project with such haste? TQM had years to put together an application for this project. If they chose to wait until the last minute, change their originally chosen corridor for a new one, and then carry out an abysmally inadequate environmental assessment of the new route, it is no one's fault but their own. The environment and the public should not have to pay the price for TQM's negligence.
When we first contacted the NEB last year one of the first questions we asked was "What part does TQM's November 1998 "deadline" play in the process?". We were assured of the answer: none. In spite of this it is now apparent that authorities at the federal level are abandoning their responsibility to the environment and to the public in order to facilitate TQM's construction schedule. We ask that you bring this to an end.
Allow me to once again quote the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency's guidelines:
"The Point Aconi decision of the Federal Court of Canada has provided guidance to responsible authorities in using their discretionary powers in response to public concerns. (Cantwell and others v. Minister of the Environment and others (1991), 41 F.T.R. 18). In reviewing a decision by a federal Minister not to refer a project to a review panel, the Court noted factors that are likely to be relevant and irrelevant in deciding whether public concerns warrant a referral to a mediator or panel.
As a general guide, the Court stated that discretion by the responsible authority must be exercised reasonably and in good faith, taking into account relevant considerations (and) having regard to the purposes of the legislation.
Relevant factors identified in the Court's decision included:
- the level and extent of public concern about the project;
- the general conclusion of the environmental assessment that expressly refers to public concerns;
- the evidence of widespread public concern about the project and interest in a public review, as reflected in the environmental assessment report and other documents;
- advice to the Minister that environmental effects over which members of the public have expressed concern are considered to be insignificant or mitigable with known technology; and
- lack of likely effectiveness of a panel in recommending changes in the project that would address concerns expressed by the public.
Factors that were found to be irrelevant in determining the need for an referral to a public review panel included:
- considerations of expediency or practicality;
- the fact that construction had begun on the project; and
- the fact that a provincial government, having concluded its own assessment, would be unlikely to agree to participate in a public review."
"Public concerns can trigger the need for a public review in one of two ways:
- the questions and issues raised by the public brings into question the scientific or technical soundness of the report's analysis and conclusions; and
- they deal with broader questions of public values that require further investigation than what was possible in the comprehensive study."
Clearly, there is every reason for this project to be subjected to a public review, including an assessment of the project's alternatives:
In addition, there are no legitimate reasons why there should not be a public evaluation of the comprehensive study and the project alternatives. TQM has been negligent in their environmental assessment and callous in addressing public concerns. They alone must accept the responsibility and consequences of having badly played their hand. Neither construction schedules nor commercial commitments are valid reasons for short-circuiting the laws and guidelines that are designed to foster public participation and protect the environment.
"The result of an effective public involvement program will be better decisions by the responsible authority -- decisions that are made with a full understanding of public concerns and that are, in turn, better understood and trusted by the people affected by them."
In conclusion, Ms. Stewart, in the case of the TQM PNGTS Extension project, the environment and public concerns are taking a back seat to TQM's construction schedule. We insist that as the ultimate authority in this matter you ensure that both the letter and the spirit of the applicable laws and guidelines are fully respected. Only in this way can public confidence in the Government of Canada's commitment to the environment be upheld.
Agent de Projet
Agence Canadienne d'évaluation environnementale Édifice
Hull, QC K1A 0H3
Michel Mantha, Secretary
Canadian National Energy Board
311 6th Avenue South West
Calgary, AB T2P 3H2
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