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.

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