04/08/2013 02:37 EDT | Updated 06/08/2013 05:12 EDT

NEB hearings application form called undemocratic

The National Energy Board is changing its rules for participation in public hearings, starting with its hearings in August into the reversal of a pipeline that runs through Ontario to Montreal.

Potential participants or letter writers for the hearings into the Line 9b reversal will have to complete a 10-page application form before the NEB will decide whether they can take part. Environmental groups call the move undemocratic.

However, the NEB insists it is just putting in place the changes made to the NEB Act in Bill C-38, last year's first omnibus Budget Implementation Act.

"The changes to the act are intended to promote fairness and efficiency by ensuring the board hears from those directly affected," NEB spokesperson Whitney Punchak wrote to the CBC. "The NEB has always made determinations on intervener status," she added.

The Line 9b Reversal is part of an Enbridge plan to reverse the flow of its pipeline between Sarnia, Ontario and Montreal. The NEB has already given Enbridge permission for the stretch to Westover, near Hamilton, Ont., from Sarnia. Line 9b is the final leg of the pipeline that passes through the most populated part of Ontario.

The new application form is 10 pages long. Only those directly affected by the project or those with a particular expertise relevant to the project will be considered. In the case of expertise, the NEB requests that the applicant send a resumé or letter of reference that describes their area of expertise.

"Since when does someone’s resumé determine if they have the right to be concerned about what’s happening in their home community?" asked Keith Stewart of Greenpeace Canada.

Adam Scott of Environmental Defence, a Toronto-based environmental group, worried the new rules were designed to narrow the number of participants in the hearing.

"The new rules are undemocratic," he said. "They attempt to restrict the public’s participation in these hearings and prevent a real dialogue about the environmental impacts of the Line 9 pipeline project."

The NEB said that is not the case.

"The form helps applicants understand what information is important to the board’s decision," wrote Punchak. "The changes to the act are intended to promote fairness and efficiency by ensuring the board hears from those directly affected."

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, the minister responsible for the NEB, stressed the new application process would help the NEB reach a science-based decision.

"Focusing consultation on individuals directly affected by a proposal before the NEB, and experts with relevant information or expertise, ensures the review is informed by the facts," Oliver told CBC News.