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Peter Watson named as new National Energy Board chair and chief executive

CALGARY - The National Energy Board is getting a new boss.

Peter Watson has been appointed to a seven-year term as the federal energy watchdog's chairman and CEO, federal Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford announced Friday.

Watson, whose new posting begins Aug. 18, has served as Alberta's deputy minister of energy, the environment and most recently the executive council. He takes over from Gaetan Caron, whose term ended this week.

Alberta Premier Dave Hancock called Watson a "trusted and valuable friend and colleague."

Watson worked on climate change and water strategies, as well as on developing carbon capture and storage technology and improving market access. In his current role, he's in charge of Alberta's public service.

"He has a calm, wise and steady approach to governance, and his passion and commitment to Alberta's Public Service is unquestioned," Hancock said in a release.

Also Friday, Rickford announced NEB member Lyne Mercier will become vice-chair, effective immediately.

"The comprehensive experience and knowledge of these individuals will be invaluable during this critical time for our federal energy regulator," he said in a statement.

The NEB leadership change comes at a time when new pipelines, and the oilsands crude that would flow through them, are under intense scrutiny.

The Alberta and federal governments have been pushing for new pipelines to connect Canadian resources with global markets, but contentious proposals such as the Northern Gateway pipeline to the West Coast and Keystone XL pipeline to the U.S. are facing fierce opposition.

"If the Harper government was hoping to temper the growing criticism of flawed National Energy Board processes it is heading in the wrong direction with this appointment," Greenpeace campaigner Mike Hudema said in a statement.

"Alberta is a very troubled regulatory jurisdiction, especially when it comes to pipelines, so choosing an insider from within its ranks doesn't bode well for the environment or communities across the country. Canadians deserve an independent body that they can entrust with protecting the public interest. Unfortunately, this decision indicates they're not getting it any time soon."

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