British Columbia says the federal government needs to back off and stop interfering in an independent review process over the approval of Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline.
Environment Minister George Heyman said he is "very disturbed" that the federal government supports the creation of a standing panel to quickly settle conflicts over provincial and municipal permits.
"The federal government should get its nose out of British Columbia's business unless we're … violating federal laws. We are not," Heyman said in an interview Thursday with the Canadian Press.
Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain proposal would triple the capacity of a pipeline between the Edmonton area and Metro Vancouver and boost tanker traffic through the Burrard Inlet about seven fold.
Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr said he wrote to the National Energy Board about the delay in permits for the pipeline expansion to find a more efficient way of resolving conflicts.
"We're not interested in interfering with how the National Energy Board does its business," Carr said Thursday after speaking to an energy forum hosted by the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade.
Carr has written to the board endorsing the creation of a panel to address permit problems. This came after Carr initially said that the federal government wouldn't intervene on the file because it had confidence that the NEB would do the right thing.
Kinder Morgan has appealed to the board, arguing Burnaby in Metro Vancouver is wrongly withholding construction permits for its pipeline after it has been approved by the federal government. Carr sent in his new request to the board about a week after Alberta NDP Premier Rachel Notley urged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberals to "step up" in support of Kinder Morgan.
Heyman didn't accept Carr's explanation.
"He can call it what he wants. He's interfering. He's intervening in British Columbia's permitting jurisdiction, plain and simple," he said.
B.C. has approved 66 of about 1,200 permits that are required for the Trans Mountain project to proceed. Heyman said the remainder are waiting on additional environmental assessments and consultation with First Nations by Kinder Morgan.
'Kinder Morgan should look at themselves' for failures, Heyman says
In a separate interview last month with National Observer at a climate change summit in Bonn, Germany, Heyman said Kinder Morgan was trying to "short-circuit" the permitting and accountability system.
He said the company needed more than 1,100 permits from B.C. to proceed with construction, but nearly 1,000 of those have yet to be approved because of the company's own failures.
"Quite frankly, they've yet to be approved because Kinder Morgan has failed in their responsibility to do the environmental research and present the environmental plans that are needed to support approval of the permits," Heyman told National Observer on Nov. 15. "They've failed to do, in many cases, adequate First Nations consultation to support the approval of their permits. Kinder Morgan should look at themselves for any delays they are experiencing."
Heyman added that the B.C. government doesn't believe the pipeline expansion is a good idea, but that it is still committed to fairly reviewing all of Kinder Morgan's requests.
"Because that's our legal responsibility," he said. "But it's also our legal responsibility and our responsibility to British Columbians to ensure that adequate environmental measures, strong environmental measures and strong First Nation consultation practices are upheld. Kinder Morgan needs to do that and not spend their time looking for ways to short-circuit the process."
Notley, who also spoke at the energy forum this week in Vancouver, commended Carr for writing to the federal energy regulator.
"We just can't spend the next 10 years bickering over this," she said. "We know that a trans-provincial pipeline like this... is a matter of national interest."
The pipeline proposal has prompted opposition from environmentalists, First Nations, and British Columbia's NDP government. More than 100 protesters gathered in the rain outside the hotel where the energy forum was held.
Debate is over, says Kinder Morgan president Ian Anderson
Ian Anderson, president of Kinder Morgan Canada, said the debate over the pipeline is over and it's time to build it, adding the $7.4-billion project has undergone the most rigorous environmental review process in the country's history.
"Now is the time to show Canadians and the world that we have had the healthy debate, that we have had a rigorous review, and we will get on to build the project," he told the forum.
His speech was interrupted by protester Will George, a member of the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation, who was ushered out of the conference room.
Anderson said Burnaby, where the pipeline ends, is wrongly withholding construction permits for the project.
"At the end of the day, they can't prevent us from doing our work," Anderson said.
The city has said it is acting in good faith and blames Kinder Morgan for not following the rules in place for all other development projects under its jurisdiction.