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Natural resources minister says up to NEB to fix Energy East concerns

Click to play video: 'NEB changes panels members and will restart Energy East Pipeline hearings'
NEB changes panels members and will restart Energy East Pipeline hearings
WATCH ABOVE: The National Energy Board is bowing to pressure from critics claiming the board's panel members overseeing hearings of the proposed Energy East project broke conflict of interest rules. Gary Bobrovitz reports – Sep 10, 2016

Resources Minister Jim Carr says it is up to the embattled National Energy Board to sort out allegations that its hearings on the proposed Energy East pipeline have been compromised.

Public hearings into TransCanada’s proposed 4,600-kilometre oil pipeline from Alberta to New Brunswick have been suspended following protests in Montreal and revelations that a TransCanada (TSX:TRP) representative met privately last year with two of the three panellists examining the pipeline bid.

Carr, speaking to reporters in a conference call from Mumbai, India, would not offer an opinion on the NEB panellists or the appearance of insider influence.

“The National Energy Board is independent of government,” the minister said. “It will have to make its own decisions on how to handle the current situation.”

Late last month, the federally mandated and government-appointed energy regulator said hearings into Energy East were suspended while it addressed complaints against board members Lyne Mercier and Jacques Gauthier. Media reports this summer revealed the two Energy East panellists met privately in January 2015 with former Quebec premier Jean Charest, who was a paid consultant for TransCanada at the time.

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READ MORE: NEB sidelines Energy East review panel after complaints over private meeting with TransCanada

Earlier this week, more than 50 groups sent an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau saying the government should approve no new pipelines until the NEB is completely overhauled. They argued the government should shelve both the Energy East hearings and a recently completed NEB review of the proposed expansion of the existing Trans Mountain pipeline in British Columbia, pending a new review process.

Carr appeared to dismiss that proposal Friday, noting the government already tweaked the existing review system last January to add additional consultations with indigenous groups and a new, upstream assessment of greenhouse gas emissions.

“It’s up to the National Energy Board to determine the way it governs itself,” said Carr.

“In the longer term, the government of Canada will look at the mandate of the National Energy Board, to look at its corporate governance, to look at its relationship with the government of Canada. But we will now operate under the law as it exists and the National Energy Board will have to take a decision in this matter.”

The Energy East hearing suspension further clouds a regulatory and review system that has been the subject of fierce complaints for years from both environmental advocates and industry.

READ MORE: Montreal Energy East hearings postponed for a second day

The former Conservative government overhauled the rules in 2012 to speed up environmental assessments and reduce regulatory hurdles. The changes did not result in any major new pipeline approvals but did inflame debate among environmental and First Nations critics.

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The Liberals came to office last November promising to revamp the environmental review system, reform the NEB, and also enact tough new climate policies to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Those various promises will be under intense scrutiny this autumn.

“The existing NEB is an economic regulator and isn’t equipped to deal with the commitments Trudeau has made on climate change and indigenous reconciliation,” Keith Stewart of Greenpeace Canada said Friday in an email.

“Trudeau has acknowledged both the NEB and environmental assessment processes are fatally flawed, so he can’t really expect a pipeline approved under (Stephen) Harper’s approval process to be seen as legitimate.”

Carr maintained there’s plenty of time for the NEB to get the Energy East hearings back on track and said ultimately the decision whether to approve the pipeline will be up to the Liberal cabinet, based on what’s in the national interest.

Watch below: Global News’ ongoing coverage of the proposed Energy East pipeline.

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