In a decision that was widely expected, the National Energy Board released a report on February 22nd on its reconsideration of the Trans Mountain pipeline project, recommending that the government proceed with the project.
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The NEB’s new report focused on the impacts of marine shipping (including on the highly endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales) which was excluded from the original review. It was one of the 2 factors that caused the Federal Court of Appeal to quash the pipeline’s approvals and permits in their August 2018 ruling. The other was the inadequate consultation with affected First Nations, which the government says it is addressing through a new round of consultations that began in October.
The new report states that the proposed project will have significant “adverse environmental effects" on orcas and Indigenous culture, significant climate pollution, and significant damage in the event of a worst-case oil spill, and recommends approval in the face of these. Alongside the approval, the report recommends 16 conditions aiming to better protect marine life.
This report delivery also technically starts the clock on a 90-day deadline for Trudeau's cabinet to decide whether the project will proceed, but this is something officials are already signalling could be pushed back.
Earlier this week, the National Energy Board (NEB) also rejected a motion supported by environmental groups, First Nations, municipal governments, and community groups to include climate impacts in its new review of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project (TMX). The motion was asking the NEB to adopt the same climate impact standards it had already adopted for Energy East, that were a key factor in TransCanada finally abandoning the project.
So where does this leave us?
As I said, this decision was widely expected. The NEB has a long history of siding with industry over communities, and the rushed process for this tacked-on review was not expected to come to any other conclusion.
The reconsideration process was widely criticized as inadequate due to its short 22 week timeline, the inaccessible and frankly bizarre decision to accept feedback only by fax, “surprise” public comment periods of only 2-7 days, and a very narrow scope of review and evidence.
And while the NEB is ultimately designed to approve projects like this, it is worth remembering the Trudeau government has more staked a staggering amount of political and financial capital in TMX. The Federal Court of Appeal’s ruling to quash the project happened a few months after the Trudeau Liberals made a deal for the federal government to buy the project from Texas-based Kinder Morgan for $4.5 billion (though Kinder Morgan itself and independent estimates estimate the final costs to complete the project will total 7-15 billion or more).
The good news is that there is a giant wall of opposition of communities from coast to coast to coast that know it’s time for a just transition. This is why the TMX pipeline, like Energy East, Keystone XL, and Northern Gateway before it, and Line 3 currently, have faced years of delays or outright cancellations. We know we can’t afford the tripling in tar sands production they would help facilitate – for our climate, for Indigenous rights, for reliable jobs, or for our water.
Further court challenges will now be launched, as the federal government will need to show that their new consultations and recommendations adequately address the Federal Court of Appeal's concerns.
There is also a beautiful, diverse, widespread movement ready to use lots of different tactics to stop this pipeline from being built. Some of the most exciting strategis on the horizon are those that are marrying the strong ‘no’ to new fossil fuels with the future with a liveable climate, Indigenous rights, and good work that we want to see. The Tiny House Warriors are building ten houses on the pipeline's path in Secwepemc territory to assert jurisdiciton, block access to the pipeline, and model the kinds of solutions to their nation's housing crisis that they want to see scaled up. And Climate Justice Edmonton's "People on the Path" project is shifting the narrative that all Albertans are pro-pipeline by showcasing different communities' visions for a just transition in 8 foot portraits to be installed along the route.
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