Anyone who has ever filed their taxes knows that you have to have your paperwork finished before the deadline. But such rules don’t seem to apply to pipeline applications. TransCanada filed an incomplete application for its Energy East pipeline plan and yet the National Energy Board (NEB) is steaming ahead with a review. This process is in shambles and it’s time to start over. The NEB should force TransCanada to refile its bungled Energy East application.

Only four months after filing a 30,000-page application, TransCanada’s Energy East project started to fall off the rails. In April, the pipeline company cancelled a major piece of its proposal, throwing the entire application into chaos.

TransCanada was forced to abandon its original plans for a massive export oil tanker terminal on the St. Lawrence River at Cacouna. Despite repeated warnings that the Cacouna terminal and tankers would seriously harm the breeding grounds of St. Lawrence belugas, currently numbering less than 700,  TransCanada pushed on. Only when there was a public backlash and those belugas were officially declared endangered did TransCanada finally give in and scrap the terminal plans.

What makes the situation even messier is that TransCanada still doesn’t know where major parts of the project might be built. Does it want to build two oil tanker export terminals or just one? Where would the pipeline travel through Quebec? Which First Nations, towns or landowners would be affected? Where does TransCanada propose the pipeline cross the St Lawrence River?

No one knows the answers. Not even TransCanada apparently. In a letter to the Board last week, the company stated: “Energy East continues to assess the viability of other options for the establishment of a maritime transport terminal and storage of oil.”

The NEB is supposed to look over applications to make sure they’re complete before starting hearings. But with Energy East, the NEB jumped the gun and opened applications for participants before declaring the application ready.  With so many unanswered questions about the pipeline’s route, it’s clear this application is far from complete.

TransCanada is begging for special treatment – urging the NEB to review just the parts of its proposal that the company has nailed-down now, while the company figures out what to do with the other half. But that’s not fair to Canadians. Canadians deserve to know the full route – and the full risks – of the project, not just some of the details that the company has decided to share. It’s unacceptable. And that’s why last week, Environmental Defence joined more than 60 groups from across Canada in sending a letter to the NEB, urging the board to close down the Energy East application and asking the NEB to start over. The letter also raised serious questions about the damaged trust in the NEB process after gutting of environmental laws, the lack of public participation in hearings, and concerns over inadequate First Nations consultation.

The responsibility is on TransCanada to provide a complete and detailed application before any hearing process can begin. And if TransCanada doesn’t do this, then the NEB must stop the proceedings until that application is ready. The NEB cannot allow the interests of oil companies to trump the interests of Canadians.

All stakeholders, including TransCanada, should want a fair and transparent review process. Without one, any decision about projects like Energy East will lack legitimacy. Let’s hope the NEB agrees and declares the Energy East application incomplete.

And while we are at, let’s fix our broken regulatory system – add your voice to our petition.