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

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

The National Energy Board has sidelined all three Energy East reviewers following complaints that two of them met privately with a TransCanada consultant last year and discussed the proposed
oil pipeline.

The Calgary-based national energy regulator says it has also limited the duties of board chairman Peter Watson and vice-chair Lyne Mercier, who will not be involved in choosing the new panel to resume the Energy East pipeline hearings at a later date.

Media reports this summer revealed that Mercier and board member Jacques Gauthier, both of whom were assigned to the Energy East hearings, met privately in January 2015 with former Quebec premier Jean Charest, who was a paid consultant for TransCanada Corp at the time.

Late last month, the federally mandated and government-appointed energy regulator suspended the fledgling hearings into the proposed, 4,500-kilometre oil pipeline.

READ MORE: National Energy Board suspends hearings into Energy East

More than 50 environmental and governance advocates this week urged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to scrap the whole NEB review process and start over with reviews on Energy East and the proposed Trans Mountain pipeline expansion in B.C.

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But Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr says that, while an overhaul of the energy regulator is slated for the longer term, existing major oil infrastructure bids will be assessed under the law as it currently exists.

READ MORE: Natural resources minister says up to NEB to fix Energy East concerns

Stakeholder reaction to Friday’s developments were swift.

“We accept the NEB’s decision,” a TransCanada spokesperson said to Global News in an email. “We look forward to the sessions resuming and a respectful and constructive dialogue with Canadians about Energy East. The NEB hearing process is important to TransCanada. It is a formal, open and transparent way to further address people’s questions and concerns, while building knowledge and understanding about the project.”

Global News received an email from Minister Carr’s office that said the Liberal government remained committed to a “transparent process for decisions on major energy projects.”

“While it is unfortunate that the circumstances have delayed the regulatory review for this project, independence and neutrality are fundamental principles for all of Canada’s regulatory institutions, including those reviewing major projects such as the National Energy Board,” the email went on to say.

Alberta Energy Minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd provided a statement to Global News that said her office recognizes the importance of Canadians having “confidence in the regulatory process.”

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“Our hope is that the review process can proceed as quickly as possible so that constructive dialogue can resume and people who have legitimate questions can have them answered,” her statement said. “We will continue to reinforce the importance of getting our oil to overseas markets for the benefit of the entire country.”

-With files from Global’s Phil Heidenreich.

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

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