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Board sets out limits in pipeline hearings

Board sets out limits in pipeline hearingsAn activist walks up the stairs of an oil storage tank at the Kinder Morgan facility in Burrard Inlet, B.C. on Oct. 16, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

VANCOUVER - The National Energy Board hearings into Kinder Morgan's proposed pipeline expansion through Alberta and British Columbia will begin in August and hear from more than a thousand people, groups and communities.

But only 400 of the more than 2,118 applicants who applied to be interveners in the hearings will be allowed to participate.

Those groups given approval will be allowed to question experts and company officials and present evidence at the hearings.

They include: dozens of First Nations, the Alberta Federation of Labour, B.C. Green MLA and climate scientist Andrew Weaver, BC Nature, the BC Wildlife Federation, BP Canada, BC Hydro, the Burnaby Teachers' Association, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the Chamber of Shipping of British Columbia, and cities from Kamloops to Victoria.

Environment Canada, Aboriginal Affairs and the federal Fisheries and Oceans department will also have intervener status, as well as the B.C. and Alberta provincial governments and the conservation groups Living Oceans and Raincoast Foundation.

Another 1,250 individuals and groups will be allowed to submit a comment letter to the panel but won't be able to participate directly in the hearings.

Of the applications received, 452 that requested intervener status were given commenter status.

Another 468 were denied participation.

They include: New Democrat MP Kennedy Stewart, the Business Council of British Columbia, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Canadian Natural Resource Alliance, the City of Fort St. John, Dogwood Initiative and the Okanagan Upcycling Resource Society.

Texas-based Kinder Morgan's $5.4-billion pipeline expansion would have the capacity to transport up to 890,000 barrels per day from Alberta to the company's Westridge terminal in Burnaby.

Changes to the National Energy Board Act that came into effect in July 2012 limit participation to those directly affected by a project or those with specific expertise or information.

Caitlyn Vernon of the Sierra Club BC said the decision to deny participation is "profoundly undemocratic."

"This is a rigged process, deliberately designed to silence the legitimate voices of British Columbians on an issue that has profound implications for our province," Vernon said in statement.

"All British Columbians are directly affected by the Kinder Morgan proposal, which threatens B.C. families, jobs, salmon and climate."

Trans Mountain took no position on individual applicants.

But the company told the panel "the legislative change is meant to avoid parties that may be affected by a project from being 'lost in the crowd' of parties whose issues are unrelated to a specific project," the board stated in the decision released Wednesday.

The panel said the changes to the National Energy Board Act were made to promote fairness and efficiency in the review process.

"If you are directly affected, you will be given an opportunity to present your concerns to the board, and the board will make its decision based on the application and all of the evidence before it," the agency said.

The review panel will hear aboriginal evidence this August and September and hearings will begin next January.

The panel has until July 2, 2015, to complete its report and recommendation for the federal government.

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