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Economist Withdraws from Trans Mountain Review, Calling It 'Rigged'

Robyn Allan no longer involved in NEB review of Kinder Morgan pipeline proposal.

Jeremy Nuttall 19 May 2015TheTyee.ca

Jeremy J. Nuttall is The Tyee's Parliament Hill reporter in Ottawa. Find his previous stories here.

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Economist Robyn Allan: 'This process is flawed.'

One of the most vocal opponents of the proposed Trans Mountain pipeline expansion has pulled out of the National Energy Board's review of the project, saying the process is "rigged" and does not serve the public interest.

Economist Robyn Allan has written extensively on Kinder Morgan's proposal and the process to approve it. She is the second high profile opponent to withdraw from the process, following former BC Hydro CEO Marc Eliesen last year. Eliesen, who is married to Allan, also claimed the NEB review was "predetermined."

"The main reason I'm pulling out now is because unequivocally this process is flawed. It is not protecting the public interest of Canadians," Allan said. "Continued involvement signals the process may be working, when in fact it is not."

U.S.-based Kinder Morgan wants to triple the capacity of the Trans Mountain pipeline to ferry 890,000 barrels of primarily diluted Alberta bitumen to a marine terminal in Burnaby, where the oil will be loaded on tankers for export to Asia.

A final decision on the pipeline is expected by Jan. 25, 2016.

Losing faith

Allan said the NEB review of Trans Mountain doesn't properly consider the scope of the project, because it focuses mainly on the new pipeline without the context of the existing 60-year-old line.

She said that gives the public a false understanding of how much risk the system poses as it pumps oil to the terminal at Burrard Inlet where it is loaded on ships for export.

The way the review is structured also ignores safety issues, such as the possible dangers associated with older oil holding tanks being next to new tanks, she said.

Allan, who is also the former president and CEO of the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, charged that the review is obviously geared towards approving the pipeline expansion.

"I've come to the conclusion that the NEB has strategically scoped the risk of this project so as not to adequately assess it," Allan said.

Allan said she first lost faith in the review process in April 2014, when the NEB said it would not allow intervenors to cross examine Kinder Morgan officials, instead opting for a written format to test evidence.

But Allan said she stayed on as an intervenor to see how the process played out, only to later determine it was an "exercise in futility."

Process 'rigorous and fair': NEB

National Energy Board communications officer Tara O'Donovan defended the process, and said that with more than 400 intervenors and 1,300 commentators, the written process is the best method.

"We consider our process to be rigorous and fair," O'Donovan said. "We have a large number of intervenors we need to hear from, so we have to design our process to be flexible."

O'Donovan said that Allan's withdrawal is disappointing, and that she will now be unable to influence the review.

But Allan isn't concerned with the board's opinion on the matter.

"My concern isn't the [NEB] or the [review] panel, or how they respond," Allan said. "The fact is the public needs to be aware of how this process is flawed, and that it will not deliver what the public expects."

Trans Mountain did not answer a request for comment by The Tyee's deadline on Tuesday.

Victoria NDP MP Murray Rankin said that he wasn't surprised Allan pulled out of process. He said the review is broken, but stopped short of agreeing with Allan that it is "rigged."

"I would say it's dysfunctional. If the process isn't working, and people of [Allan's] calibre conclude that it's not working, then obviously it should give everyone pause," Rankin said. "It certainly should give the NEB pause."

Rankin said he wonders if the NEB and the Harper government are listening to what the public is saying about the process, considering they haven't taken a step back to examine it after complaints.  [Tyee]

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