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NEB green-lights Trans Mountain pipeline project, again

Last Updated Feb 22, 2019 at 7:40 pm PST

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Despite criticism from environmental groups and the B.C. government, the National Energy Board has once again approved the controversial Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project, if it meets certain requirements to protect the environment.

The report includes 16 new recommendations to the federal government.

The NEB says its “overall recommendation that the Trans Mountain Expansion Project is in the Canadian public interest and should be approved.”

The report admits project-related marine shipping will likely cause “significant adverse environmental effects on the Southern resident killer whale and on Indigenous cultural use associated with the Southern resident killer whale.”

It also concluded that “greenhouse gas emissions from Project-related marine vessels would likely be significant.”

It says a “credible worst-case spill” is not likely, but if it were to happen, there would be “significant” environmental effects.

“While these effects weighed heavily in the NEB’s reconsideration of project-related marine shipping, the NEB recommends that the government of Canada find that they can be justified in the circumstances — in light of the considerable benefits of the project and measures to mitigate the effects,” said NEB chief environment officer Robert Steedman.

The NEB cited job creation, access to new oil markets, tax revenue, spending on materials and development of local business and communities as benefits of the project.

“The project overall, with the mitigation and particularly with the recommendations to further offset residual effects is in the Canadian public interest,” Steedman said.

The Court of Appeal rejected Ottawa’s approval of the project last August, after it said the board did not adequately consult First Nations or look at the effects of marine shipping. The federal government ordered a new NEB report in October.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet has 90 days to give its final say on the project, but it’s expected Ottawa will take longer.

The parliamentary secretary to natural resources calls the decision a milestone, but hasn’t given a timeline as to when work on the project could start up again.

RELATED: Trudeau gov’t calls NEB’s Trans Mountain decision an ‘important milestone’

Alberta has been fighting hard for the Trans Mountain expansion so that the province could move more crude oil to ports and from there to lucrative overseas markets.

The second NEB report has 165 legally binding conditions, one less than the original report. A condition of to engage the public on how to reduce collisions between smaller and larger vessels was reduced to a recommendation.

Some critics of the project argue the new recommendations “are unenforceable and will have no effect on the pipeline company.”

“Today’s recommendation is the direct result of the Prime Minister’s Office telling the NEB and federal bureaucrats to ‘get to yes’ on this project,” Tzeporah Berman with Stand.earth wrote in a news release.

“Federal officials have stated on multiple occasions ‘this pipeline will be built’ – despite ongoing consultations with First Nations.”

She argues scientific evidence “clearly shows that there is not enough data to ensure the safety of the marine environment … and that the NEB failed to address the climate impacts of this project.”

First Nations communities along the pipeline route will continue to oppose construction, according to Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) secretary treasurer Chief Judy Wilson.

“Regardless of what NEB says, the Trans Mountain expansion project will never happen. It does not and will not have the consent of our indigenous people along the pipeline. We know we have inherent rights on the unceded territories on our lands and we’ll continue to stand up for them,” she said during a joint news conference at UBCIC headquarters that included First Nations, environmental groups and politicians. “The (NEB) has acknowledged they can justify harm to orcas, are they saying to First Nations they can justify the harm to our lives?”

The union said Justin Trudeau’s credibility and integrity is under the most intense scrutiny since he became Prime Minister.

At the same conference, Eugene Kung with West Coast Environmental Law said the NEB is using out-of-date economic forecasts that artificially inflate the benefits of the project.

“They’re grounding this justification in a 2013 reality where oil was over $100 a barrel. I thin kthat should be very concerning especially now that Canada owns this project. That it appears the government is trying to hide the true costs.” he said, adding he thinks it is difficult for Ottawa to be objective about the project when it is both its approver of and owner.

Peter McCartney with the Wilderness Committee says opponents of the project will use every means they can to stop it from being built, despite this decision.

“We’ve been fighting this project for nearly a decade now and we’re just going to keep going. We’ve consistently had victories. I think everyone is looking at what kind of legal action can be taken,” he said.

McCartney also expects activists will resume their protests near the Trans Mountain facility on Burnaby Mountain where the pipeline will end.

“There’s already been 200 people arrested on Burnaby Mountain and outside the terminal — and that’s before construction on the actual pipeline even started.”

Problems with NEB second review: project critics

West Coast Environmental Association lawyer Eugene Kung says the NEB is using out-of-date economic forecasts that artificially inflate the benefits of the project.

“They’re grounding this justification in a 2013 reality where oil was over $100 a barrel,” he says. “I think that should be very concerning, especially now that Canada owns this project, that it appears that the government is trying to hide the true costs.”

He says he thinks it’s difficult for Ottawa to be objective about the project when it is both the approver of the project and the owner.

RELATED: Regulator’s report unlikely to settle Trans Mountain pipeline expansion battle

Meanwhile, Chief Judy Wilson with the Union of BC Indian Chiefs says the NEB is justifying harm to orcas and questions what that means for First Nations.

“Regardless of what NEB says, Trans Mountain expansion project will never happen. It does not, and will not have the consent of our Indigenous people on the pipelie,” she says. “Right now, I’d say the Trudeau government is in complete disarray.”

And depending on whether Ottawa chooses to move forward with TransMountain, the Prime Minister’s credibility is on the line, says Chief Bob Chamberlain, also with UBCIC. He says there are other ways — rather than building a pipeline — to create jobs.

“If we want to create a whole range of thousands of jobs, why don’t we start by decomissioning properly the oil wells which are no longer being used. This represents a liability in the billions of dollars,” he says.

First Nations, environmental groups and some politicians have said the second consultation was rushed and left plenty of room to be challenged i

 – With files from Derek Craddock and the Canadian Press