The head of the National Energy Board, Peter Watson, as recently as July, said it's "just not our role" to look at greenhouse gas emissions, but he said he's comforted that governments are considering the issue.
It's a stance that's caused no end of frustration for environmental groups.
And now it could be changing.
"Nobody should think we don't take these issues seriously, that we don't care about climate change, that we don't care about greenhouse gas emissions associated with the projects we are reviewing."
The federal Liberals ran on a platform to modernize the National Energy Board. That included reflecting regional views and ending the practice of having federal ministers interfere in the environmental assessment process.
The platform also stated, "we will also ensure that environmental assessments include an analysis of upstream impacts and greenhouse gas emissions resulting from projects under review."
Watson has had a brief conversation with the new natural resources minister, James Carr, and will have more in-depth talks in the coming months. Watson realizes change is coming to the NEB, he's just not sure how.
"We will work with the government on what they intend to do and our responsibility is to implement any changes they put in place relative to environmental assessments and otherwise," said Watson.
The NEB's future was discussed by Watson at an energy conference in Calgary on Friday.
Clarity is what the NEB will be looking for, so it can properly respond. For example, the organization would need to know what to include in its assessment, whether it's the upstream operations of extracting oil and gas or the downstream emissions of burning natural gas to heat homes and using gasoline to drive cars and trucks.
Paris talks looming
Federal and provincial leaders will be speaking about climate change extensively in the next month as they join their international peers in Paris for the United Nations Conference on Climate Change. Watson will be keeping a close eye on what policies are adopted.
"The challenge for us has been these very significant policy debates, which are global in nature, come to the door of our hearings. A hearing on a project is just unable to sort those kind of issues out for the country," said Watson. "People have a range of views of what we should and what we should not do. At the same time we have specific responsibilities under our mandate to look at things that are directly relevant to a pipeline."
On Friday, prime minister Justin Trudeau issued mandate letters to each cabinet minister. His letter to Carr called for the minister to "immediately review Canada's environmental assessment processes" which would include requiring "project proponents to choose the best technologies available to reduce environmental impacts."
Watson said he will wait until the government paints a clear picture about what specifically that means. Until then, it's largely business as usual at the national regulator, including reviewing pipeline projects proposed for the country.
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