This is my new favourite headline: Shell attempt to bar Greenpeace from Jackpine hearing denied. But it doesn’t tell the whole story.

Basically, Shell tried to silence us, and it didn’t work. Which is a good thing, but the rollback of Canada’s environmental laws continues so these victories risk becoming fewer and farther between.

The story: Shell wants to build a couple of new tar sands mines. I wrote a report on why that may be good for Shell, but was a bad idea for Canada. When the environmental assessment panel reviewing the project asked for public input, I asked to present my findings. I also urged readers of this blog to contact the panel, because we think that this project can be stopped.


Shell might be feeling the same way. Their lawyers wrote to the chair of the panel to say that, under the new Environmental Assessment Act rules brought in by the Harper government as part of this Spring’s budget omnibus bill, I shouldn’t be allowed to even speak to the panel. From their letter:

"Keith Stewart, for example, has stated that he intends to present at the hearing about why the Project is damaging to the environment, the economy and democracy. To support his position, Mr. Stewart attaches an article that he wrote for Greenpeace entitled "Harper's Shell Game: Why Tar Sands Pipelines are not in Canada's National Interest". This article is neither relevant to the Panel's consideration of the Project nor does it demonstrate that Mr. Stewart has information or expertise that will be useful to the Panel in determining whether the Project is in the public interest."

I was a little miffed that they would describe a 36 page report with 146 footnotes as an “article”, but they may be irked with all the dirt I dug up using Access to Information legislation. Or maybe it was the part illustrating how this project is inconsistent with meeting Canada’s climate commitments. Though it could have been the section on how they haven’t lived up to previous commitments for their tar sands mines on greenhouse gas reductions, water protection or the promises they made to First Nations.

So I wrote back, making the case for why I should be allowed to make my presentation, as did York University Professor Anna Zalik and grad student Asume Osuoka, who were also singled out by Shell’s lawyers.

Yesterday morning, we put out a press release about how Shell was trying to use the new environmental assessment rules to silence their critics. I then had to call a bunch of reporters back, after I got a letter from the panel in the afternoon saying I was accepted – leading to my new favourite headline above.

Good news, right?

Sort of.

As the Sun news story notes, Professor Zalik isn’t allowed to talk about Shell’s record relating to indigenous people in Nigeria. Which I think is a loss.

And if I am reading the letter correctly, there were dozens more people who’d asked to make presentations who didn’t get approved. Apparently I passed the test as someone offering “expertise” under the new rules (I do have a Ph.D., teach a course at the University of Toronto on energy policy and the environment and have done a fair bit of research on Shell and the tar sands).

The best environmental policy, however, makes us think very carefully about the need for a project. It makes us consider alternatives (such as fuel efficiency standards, building public transit or accelerating the transition to electric cars and renewable energy) before we proceed with new fossil fuel infrastructure like massive new tar sands mines or pipelines.

And thinking carefully means listening to lots of different perspectives – not just people with lots of degrees and a big organization behind them.