B.C. sends former AG Geoff Plant to Enbridge hearings

The B.C. government has appointed former attorney general Geoff Plant as the province's chief legal strategist at the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline review hearings.

Plant will lead the province's cross-examination at the hearings, which continued in Edmonton Thursday, Environment Minister Terry Lake announced on Thursday morning.

Premier Christy Clark said Plant, who was the attorney general of British Columbia and minister responsible for treaty negotiations from 2001 to 2005, will lead a legal "A team" at the complex hearings.

"There are a lot of regulatory hearings that government gets involved in. This is not your average run of the mill hearing," said Clark.

"Most people say he's one of the best legal minds in the country. He really gets politics. He really understands government and he understands how important the environment is to the people of our province."

But NDP environment critic Rob Fleming notes the hearings resumed in Edmonton on Tuesday, and expressed concerns Plant will be arriving late to the game.

"His appointment right on the eve of the cross examination hearings in Edmonton, that's not impressive," said Fleming.

"I think it's more make it up as you go, as opposed to having a game plan."

Clark says the decision to appoint Plant was made less than a month ago.

B.C.'s cross-examination will focus on the financial liability and insurance of the operators of the Northern Gateway Pipeline in the event of a spill and the company's plans for a full environmental restoration after a possible spill, said Minister Lake.

The final hearings underway in Edmonton are focusing on the economic, financial and tolling issues linked to the project.

The final hearings will them move to to Prince George in October, where they will focus on environmental and socio-economic effects, impacts on landowners and land use, routing, design and construction, and operation safety.

They then move to Prince Rupert in November where they will focus on aboriginal rights and interests, environmental and socio-economic effects from the marine terminal and shipping, marine safety and accident response, and public and community consultation.

Final arguments will be presented to the panel next spring, which must make a recommendation by the end of 2013. Ottawa is expected to make a decision within six months of the panel's review.

Calgary-based Enbridge Inc. wants to build the $6-billion pipeline to transport raw bitumen from the Alberta oilsands to Kitimat, B.C., where it can then be shipped to Asian markets.

The project has met with widespread opposition in British Columbia, particularly among environmentalists and First Nations people who worry about the potential damage to inland and coastal areas that would be caused by a pipeline leak or tanker spill.

Many opponents have pointed to damage done when a 2010 spill from an Enbridge pipeline damaged waterways and wetlands near Marshall, Mich., and cost $800 million to clean up.

There is also political opposition to the project. B.C. Premier Christy Clark sparked a battle with her Alberta counterpart, Alison Redford, when she announced that British Columbia would not approve the project unless the province's conditions, including a larger share of royalties, were met.

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