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04/09/2013

Environmental organizations question witness methods at Northern Gateway Pipeline hearings

Lawyers for the environmental organizations involved in the panel that is vetting Enbridge's proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline are crying foul over witness tactics.

“We concluded that the process was not working, that it was not allowing us to test the evidence,” says Chris Tollefson, counsel for BC Nature and Nature Canada, who have intervenor status in the Joint Review Panel struck by the Ministry of the Environment and the National Energy Board.

Tollefson's team filed a motion last week asking to clarify the rules, and submissions are due tomorrow.

“We felt we had no real option but to bring this complaint forward.”

The Joint Review Panel is assessing the environmental impacts and reviewing the application for the pipeline, which would carry oil from Bruderheim, Alberta to Kitimat, B.C. and carry gas condensate in the other direction.

But witnesses, the complaint says, are consulting with other witnesses before responding to questions, and sometimes even consulting with Enbridge staff. Tollefson says that increasingly, when lawyers pose a question to one witness, another will jump in and answer first -- and that this happened 17 times in one day.

That would not happen in a regular legal trial. Many of the witnesses appearing at the panel are scientists, for example, asked to testify about studies they have done.

"Unless these scientists and experts that are qualified are allowed to answer the questions directly, and in fact required to answer the questions directly, it undermines the process," says Tollefson.

Tollefson says his clients simply want the Joint Review Panel to clarify the rules for witnesses.

Meanwhile, as the Star's John Spears reported today, anyone who wishes to comment another Enbridge pipeline that runs through the GTA must first write to the energy board for permission.

The application is 10 pages, and environmental groups are concerned it will stifle public participation, as Spears reports.

Kate Allen is the Star's science and technology reporter. Find her on Twitter at @katecallen.

 

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