November 13, 2015 / 10:15 PM / in 2 years

Canada PM tells minister to modernize energy regulator

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau takes part in a news conference in Ottawa, Canada November 12, 2015.Chris Wattie

CALGARY/OTTAWA (Reuters) - Prime Minister Justin Trudeau instructed his natural resources minister to "modernize" Canada's independent pipeline regulator, said a letter released on Friday that gave details on the newly elected leader's environmental plans.

Trudeau asked Natural Resources Minister James Carr to ensure the Calgary-based National Energy Board (NEB) has a balanced representation from across the country, as well as sufficient expertise in environmental science, community development and indigenous traditional knowledge.

The Liberal prime minister on Friday published all of the mandate letters sent to his cabinet ministers, which instructed several of them to restore environmental legislation that was changed by the previous Conservative government.

Some of these instructions call for restoring legal protection for bodies of water that would, as a result, increase responsibilities for pipeline operators and other industries.

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said in an interview the government's review of environmental assessments would ensure that there was a "robust process" that Canadians can trust for current project proposals such as TransCanada Corp's Energy East project.

If approved, Energy East would carry up to 1.1 million barrels of crude oil per day from Alberta's oil sands to the Atlantic coast along a 4,200 km (2,850 mile) route.

But it was not immediately clear whether the government's legislative review would delay ongoing environmental assessments.

NEB Chairman Peter Watson said on Friday the regulator is welcoming the call for it to modernize and improve its expertise, adding that it already took steps in that direction.

The NEB has been criticized in recent years by many environmentalists and aboriginal communities, who say it does not provide adequate oversight because it is failing to engage with them and is too close to the Alberta-based energy companies that it regulates.

"When we go to towns and to communities, we might not always be genuine in really trying to understand the root of their issues and help them understand what we're doing about it because we sometimes get defensive when people are asking us questions," Watson told an energy conference.

Watson, appointed by the former Conservative government in 2014, told reporters that the NEB has taken steps to address those concerns and wants to do a better job of listening to communities affected by projects.

He added that he has had an introductory chat with Carr and believes there is still room for improvement at the regulator.

Reporting By Mike De Souza in Calgary and Randall Palmer in Ottawa; Editing by Jeffrey Hodgson and Grant McCool

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