A provincial environmental assessment into the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline wouldn't take long to set up, according to NDP leader Adrian Dix.
If elected next year, the NDP has pledged to sever the provincial government's ties with the National Energy Board's Joint Review Panel and launch their own review process into the $6 billion plan to ship Alberta crude oil to the port of Kitimat via a pipeline owned by Calgary-based Enbridge.
Dix said the NDP would expedite the provincial review after giving the federal government 30 days' notice to rescind the equivalency agreement between the two parties. An NDP government would also change the environmental review process in B.C., but Dix said the Northern Gateway project would be examined under the existing legislation.
"We don't think it's fair to wait, given everything that's happened," Dix said during a visit to Prince George on Thursday, adding that he would generally like to see environmental reviews streamlined.
The provincial study would use some of the evidence collected by the ongoing federal review
Dix wouldn't put a price tag on the provincial review, but Liberal MLA John Rustad believes it would be costly. Rustad doesn't understand why the NDP would want to pursue their own review when the party has already come out against the pipeline.
"One of the things that I believe very strongly in, is between the federal and provincial governments we should be striving to do a single environmental assessment process on projects," said Rustad, the representative for Nechako Lakes. "We should be trying to have a single process to reduce the red tape, reduce the cost and bring some certainty for companies."
The Liberals haven't passed final judgment on the pipeline yet, but have issued five conditions before they would consider approving the project. Rustad believes Enbridge is close to fulfilling three of them: gaining approval from the Joint Review Panel; having world class pipeline safety and world class marine safety at the Kitimat terminal. However, he said the company still has work to do to meet the other two: consulting with First Nations and ensuring there is adequate benefit for B.C.
"I'm not an expert, we'll let the scientists make the decision if that's being achieved," Rustad said. "But from what I understand in terms of the project going forward and the safety (measures) that are in place, I think Enbridge is a long way towards that."
The Liberals have said if their conditions aren't met they could block the pipeline by refusing to issue the required permits, however Dix doesn't believe that's possible. He said since there is an equivalency agreement in place between B.C. and the federal government, approval from the Joint Review Panel would equate to tacit approval from the province.
"You can't use the permitting process to have an environmental assessment or stop the project," he said. "The problem (the Liberal government) has is this -- once the federal process ends they can no longer give notice to pull out of it and they've agreed that whatever the Prime Minister decides is what the Premier decides."
Rustad said if an agreement isn't reached between all parties -- the two levels of government, First Nations and Enbridge -- there will likely be a constitutional challenge to the environmental review's findings.