Pipeline expansion should be approved: regulator
Trans Mountain ruling gives recommendation despite environmental concerns
CALGARY— Advocates and opponents of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion stood their ground Friday as a renewed review of the contentious project recommended approving it. The National Energy Board ruled Friday that the project can move ahead despite “significant” environmental effects ff because the project’s benefits are in the public interest. Speaking in Calgary, the board’s chief environmental officer Robert Steedman said the expansion should be approved. If the project is to go ahead, it must comply with 156 conditions, the board said. The regulator found marine shipping traffic from the pipeline project would harm killer whales and Indigenous cultural uses related to the whales, as well as release “significant” greenhouse gas emissions. The NEB also added 16 recommendations for the federal government, including measures to manage cumulative effects on the Salish Sea, offset underwater noise, prevent ships from striking marine mammals and fish, respond to oil spills, consult with an Indigenous advisory committee, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The recommendations aren’t legally binding, and Steedman said they are considered “important advice to government.” The NEB report is one of the factors the federal government will consider ww when deciding whether to move for- wardw with the project.
However, the board also said the risk “can be justified in the circumstances, in light of the considerable benefits,” as long as there are measures to minimize harm.
The NEB’s much-anticipated ruling is the culmination of its rebooted review of the Trans Mountain expansion project. The federal government now owns and operates the project after purchasing it from Kinder Morgan in May 2018. The decision was being closely watched by industry, First Nations, oil sector workers and environmentalists — and it serves as a reminder of the bitter ongoing legal spat between Alberta and British Columbia.
While Alberta Premier Rachel Notley welcomed the ruling as an “important step” toward resuming pipeline construction, B.C. Premier John Horgan said he is still “convinced Trans Mountain is not in the best interests of British Columbians.”
The Alberta government, business groups and some First Nations leaders see the project as a major economic opportunity. Other First Nations, the B.C. government, environmental groups and the cities of Vancouver and Burnaby are concerned about its impact on the environment, and its infringement on the rights of Indigenous groups.
B.C. Environment Minister George Heyman also vowed that the government would “continue to assert our right to defend B.C.’s environment in court.”
In August, a federal court overturned the expansion’s approval, saying the federal government’s attempts to consult First Nations were flawed and it had ignored the risks posed by oil tankers.
In response, in September, the federal government instructed the NEB to reconsider its recommendation to approve the project.
This time, it asked the board to examine the impacts of increased marine shipping traffic on the species at risk, including critically endangered southern resident orcas. Friday’s NEB report comes just months before a federal election, when issues around Alberta’s oilsands, the environment and climate change and economic development will likely be at the fore as the Liberal government in Otta- wa defends its record on one of its most controversial files.
In Alberta, the writ could drop for a provincial election any day, and Notley said she doesn’t expect to see Ottawa approve the pipeline before that campaign begins.
But she said she is “cautiously optimistic” about the project’s future, calling the NEB’s conditions and recommendations “achievable,” and not something that will hold up construction.
She said her NDP government will continue to pressure Ottawa to properly complete consultations with Indigenous groups.
“We have to not let it be politicized. We have to make sure we get it right so when the project starts again, which I hope will happen, that it stays going and shovels stay in the ground.”
United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney shot back that the NDP government hasn’t done enough to combat opponents to the pipeline, including the B.C. government and “their special-interest allies.”
“We should not celebrate this as some great victory. What we should do is ask ourselves, ‘How is it that we ended up in this situation?’”
The NEB report is one of the factors the federal government will consider when deciding whether to move forward with the project. Cabinet has 90 days to make the decision, but it’s possible that they will ask for an extension.
But Mount Royal University policy studies professor Duane Bratt said that decision is essentially a foregone conclusion.
“I can’t imagine how the government would not approve this given that they approved the previous NEB report that got quashed by the courts, and they own the pipeline,” he said.
“How do you reject a project that you own and that now has been approved by the regulator?”
Bratt said he expects to see further legal challenges to the project.
Tzeporah Berman, spokesperson for environmental non-profit Stand.earth, issued that message to the federal government Friday.
“If you rush a decision … ignoring Indigenous rights, climate and the threat to orcas, we will see you on the campaign trail this year, in the streets and in the courts,” she said.