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OTTAWA – The Liberal government has named a five-person panel to make recommendations on overhauling the national energy regulator.

The group appointed Tuesday by Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr will examine the structure, role and mandate of the National Energy Board, which has become embroiled in controversy over its reviews of contested oil pipeline proposals.

The panel is to report to Carr by March 31 — not by the Jan. 1 deadline initially announced by the government back in June when it made public the draft mandate for the NEB review.

The Trudeau government announced last January that it was augmenting the existing oversight process for major energy projects, adding an examination of upstream greenhouse gas emissions and providing further public consultation in addition to the National Energy Board hearings.

But a more fundamental restructuring of the board, which was first created in 1959, was promised by the government pending a wide-ranging public consultation by a panel of experts.

“The panel has a mandate to consult with Canadians to seek input and make recommendations to the federal government on changes to the national energy regulator’s governance, structure, role and mandate, including the participation of indigenous peoples,” Carr said in a news release Tuesday.

“This targeted review will ensure that Canada’s regulator serves the needs of Canadians into the future.”

The panel is co-chaired by Helene Lauzon, president of the Quebec business council on the environment, and former Liberal MP Gary Merasty, a Saskatchewan Cree who is president of Des Nedhe Development.

The other panellists are David Besner, Wendy Grant-John and Brenda Kenny.

In the meantime, ongoing reviews of existing resource project bids continue amid great public turbulence.

Carr has said a cabinet decision will come by mid-December on the proposed tripling of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain oil pipeline from Alberta to Burnaby, B.C.

The looming decision has spawned protest marches and sit-ins. Plus, the city of Vancouver and the Squamish First Nation have both filed legal challenges to the NEB’s conditional approval of the Trans Mountain expansion.

The board’s examination of TransCanada’s proposed Energy East pipeline, meanwhile, was temporarily put on hold this fall after the three panellists hearing the bid stepped down over an appearance of conflict of interest.

Pipeline protesters say the Trans Mountain and Energy East reviews lack legitimacy.

An omnibus bill in 2012 under the previous Conservative government legislated that NEB project appraisals take no longer than two years. It also placed environmental assessments under the board’s purview on the rationale of “one project, one review” and it gave cabinet the power to overrule the board if it rejected a project application.

Early this year, a report from the federal commissioner of the environment found that the NEB did not properly follow up with pipeline companies after setting conditions on project approvals or after finding safety violations that needed redress.

In her January report, Julie Gelfand wrote that the NEB “needs to do more to keep pace with the rapidly changing context in which it is operating.”

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