It was only a matter of time.
Lawyers from Ecojustice have launched a legal challenge against the federal government’s re-approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
Ecojustice filed the suit Monday morning on behalf of environmental groups Raincoast Conservation Foundation and Living Oceans Society. The groups were part of the legal challenge that won their first case in August 2018, when the Federal Court of Appeal struck down cabinet’s previous approval of the project.
“Cabinet cannot justify approving a project that will lead to the extinction of a critically endangered population— legally or morally,” Ecojustice nature program director Margot Vernon said.
“The government itself says endangered southern resident killer whales face imminent threats under their current conditions. This iconic population simply cannot handle increased, unmitigated threats from the Trans Mountain expansion.”
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The federal government re-approved the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion last month after renewed consultation with First Nations and a new set of National Energy Board (NEB) hearings. After those new hearings, the NEB approved the project with additional conditions.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government bought the existing pipeline for $4.5 billion last year after regulatory and political uncertainty led Kinder Morgan to abandon the project.
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Ecojustice is arguing that cabinet failed to comply with its responsibility to protect critically endangered southern resident killer whales when it re-approved the project.
“Beyond its immediate impacts on the southern resident killer whales, Ecojustice remains concerned about the threat Trans Mountain poses to our collective climate future. We are in a climate emergency,” Living Oceans Society executive director Karen Wristen said.
“We simply can’t afford to build a project that will increase emissions at precisely the moment the science says we need to dramatically reduce our carbon footprint to avoid climate breakdown.”
The federal government is confident it will be able to win any legal challenge. At the time of re-approving the expansion, officials acknowledged “it’s likely there will be challenges” and that the situation is “unprecedented.” But there is also confidence there will be shovels in the ground this year along parts of the route.
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The B.C. government has also expressed concerns about the impact of the pipeline. Premier John Horgan says he’s worried about a potential spill and the risks associated with a seven-fold increase in tanker traffic.
“I had a conversation with the prime minister this morning and I reiterated our concerns about the consequences of a catastrophic marine spill and the impact that would have, not just on our marine environment but our economy here in British Columbia,” Horgan said last month.
The expansion would nearly triple the capacity of the existing pipeline. The tanker traffic increase would have a direct impact on the southern resident killer whale’s habitat.
The NEB concluded in its latest report on the expansion that project-related shipping “is likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects on the southern resident killer whale and on Indigenous cultural use associated with the southern resident killer whale.”
“The population of southern residents is small and declining, and the decline is expected to continue. In order to recover, these imperiled killer whales need urgent support, not an increase of physical and acoustical disturbances, oil spills, and contaminants associated with more tanker traffic,” Raincoast Conservation Foundation scientist Paul Paquet said.
“Entrusted to protect the southern residents, the federal government has struggled for years to fulfill its responsibility amid overdue and delayed recovery strategies. Its failure to do so is emblematic of the disarray and apparent political neglect in the government’s endangered species policy.”