The proposed Mackenzie Gas Project took another step towards reality Monday following the release of the governments’ final response to the Joint Review Panel’s report.
In their response, the federal government and the Government of the Northwest Territories announced they are willing to accept the “vast majority” of recommendations laid out in the JRP report.
The report, Foundation for a Sustainable Future, was released in December 2009 and made 176 recommendations to minimize the socio-economic and environmental impacts of the proposed 1,196 kilometre-long pipeline. The two governments said they are willing to “accept” or “accept the intent” of 88 of the 115 JRP recommendations directed towards them. Of the 27 recommendations rejected by the governments, 20 were determined to be “outside the scope” of the JRP’s mandate.
Both governments said they are confident that the implementation of the recommendations will eliminate or mitigate any adverse impacts associated with the project.
“Should the MGP proceed, it will do so within a responsible environmental stewardship framework,” federal Environment Minister John Baird said in a release Monday.
The JRP’s public hearings on the project began on Feb. 14, 2006 and concluded on Nov. 29, 2007, after 115 days of hearings held in 26 northern communities and Edmonton, Alberta.
“An unprecedented level of public consultation was undertaken prior to finalizing the governments’ response which highlights our commitment to implementing the appropriate mitigation measures to protect the environment and address the social, cultural and economic impacts associated with the proposed project,” Baird said. After receiving the JRP’s comments on Oct. 4, the two governments modified their response to clarify “misunderstandings” about finance issues, recommendations that would handcuff the decisions of future regulators, recommendations outside of the JRP’s mandate, and restrictions on future development.
Michael Miltenberger, the NWT minister responsible for the MGP, said he is confident the revised report meets the intent of the JRP.
“We’ve improved the wording. We’ve taken out the ambiguities for the most part. We’ve clarified a lot of the concerns that were raised in terms of how things were said – the grey areas,” Miltenberger said from Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he is attending Rosenberg International Forum on Water Policy. “The final product is an improvement and good enough that both governments have signed it off.”
Kevin O’Reilly, a member of Yellowknife-based social justice group Alternatives North, said he was disappointed but not surprised with the governments’ final response. O’Reilly said the response rejects some of the JRP’s “most important” recommendations without actually saying so.
““The Joint Review Panel spent a lot of time and energy trying to address those concerns by proposing a sustainability framework, and then applying it to what they heard,” he said. “The governments have just clearly rejected that.”
Miltenberger said the response is now in the hands of the National Energy Board (NEB).
Sara Kiley, a communications officer with the NEB, said a number of mechanical and administrative issues will be dealt with over the coming weeks before the NEB releases its decision.
“We’re looking at about one month from today,” she confirmed Monday afternoon.