Natural Resources Minister Jerome Kennedy said Wednesday Muskrat Falls’ critics are “grasping at straws” when they criticize the government’s decision to limit time for a regulatory review.
Kennedy was responding to Memorial University professor Wade Locke’s largely-glowing examination of the project.
Locke agreed with the government and Nalcor assessments that Muskrat Falls represents the lowest-cost option for electricity the island needs.
However, Locke did criticize the government for refusing to grant a three-month extension to the Public Utilities Board (PUB).
Locke said by rushing the PUB’s review, it creates an unnecessary “suspicion” in the public’s mind.
Kennedy dismissed that idea, saying the only people criticizing the government for limiting the PUB’s review are a core group of die-hard critics who will never be convinced.
“Whatever suspicion has arisen as a result of our refusal to extend that deadline is now a result of people looking for something else to criticize because (on) the project itself, they’re finding difficulty in criticizing the project,” Kennedy said. “It’s political white noise by those who are adamantly opposed to the project and will never agree, no matter what.”
In fact, Shawn Skinner, a supporter of the project and Kennedy’s immediate predecessor as Natural Resources minister, has called for the government to extend the PUB’s deadline.
Both opposition parties, along with former PUB chairman David Vardy and former St. John’s city manager Ron Penney have also called on the government to extend the deadline.
Kennedy said the PUB will have plenty of time to fulfil its terms of reference, which is simply to take an independent report on the project, and determine if it’s lower than an isolate-island alternative.
“The Manitoba Hydro International report will contain, to the best of my knowledge, a technical review of the project. Will look at the feasibility of the engineering put forward by Nalcor. When you put that in front of the PUB, they have a simple question to answer: Is Muskrat Falls the least-cost option?” Kennedy said. “Without diminishing the role of the PUB, it seems that they perhaps want to assume unto themselves a greater role than is contemplated by the terms of reference.”
Last spring, the Public Utilities Board was a cornerstone of the government’s argument for Muskrat Falls. Premier Kathy Dunderdale was repeatedly asked in the House of Assembly about parts of the project, and she repeatedly said the answers would come from the PUB review.
“Mr. Speaker, not only is there nothing to hide and not only are we going to the PUB to ask the fundamental question, the critical question that you have been putting forward day after day,” Dunderdale said in the House on May 18. “What is the critical question? Is Muskrat Falls the lowest cost option for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador for electricity generation? That is the question that is going to be put to the PUB. When that question is answered from the PUB, all of the other answers to the other questions will become absolutely clear.”
On Wednesday, Kennedy was particularly hard on criticism coming from the NDP, saying the current tone represents a break from deceased federal leader Jack Layton.
“The NDP has been making a lot of noise in the last little while, but it’s my understanding that Jack Layton supported the project,” Kennedy said. “Does the NDP still support the project? They’re not answering that.”
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