A day after declaring a “climate emergency,” the federal government approved for the second time the expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline that it now owns.
In announcing cabinet’s decision, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said fighting climate change and growing the economy are complementary.
“We need to create wealth today so we can invest in the future,” he said. “This project has the potential to create thousands of solid middle class jobs for Canadians.”
Opponents, including the B.C. government, slammed the decision and justification, saying the project puts the coast at risk, as well as tens of thousands of jobs that depend on a clean environment.
The existing pipeline from Edmonton, Alberta to Burnaby, British Columbia has capacity to carry 300,000 barrels of oil and petroleum products a day. The $7.4-billion expansion project would triple that.
The federal government approved the pipeline expansion in 2016, but a Federal Court of Appeal ruling overturned the approval, finding that the government failed to adequately consult First Nations and that the National Energy Board’s review of the project should have considered tanker traffic and the threat to southern resident killer whales.
A year ago, the federal government spent $4.5 billion to buy the existing Trans Mountain Pipeline and take over the expansion project from Texas company Kinder Morgan.
Trudeau said the pipeline is needed to get oil from Alberta to more markets. Currently the United States is the only customer for Canada’s oil and often buys it at a discount, he said.
The pipeline, which should be under construction this year, will provide options and allow Canada to get a better price for its resource, he said.
Trudeau said any money from the project — which he said could include $500 million a year in corporate taxes once it’s operational, as well as any profit from selling the pipeline — will be invested in transitioning to clean energy.
Trudeau also outlined steps the government has taken since the Federal Court of Appeal overturned its earlier approval of the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion. They included further consultation with First Nations and increased measures to mitigate potential impacts on the marine environment after the NEB held a new round of hearings.
“We listened to community concerns and we are acting on community ideas,” he said. “We have approached this decision with an open mind since the very beginning and now it’s time to take the next step.”
On Monday, the House of Commons passed a motion put forward by Environment Minister Catherine McKenna to declare a climate emergency, recognizing it as a “real and urgent crisis, driven by human activity,” and committing Canada to meeting its goals under the Paris Agreement.
In B.C., Premier John Horgan’s minority NDP government, which depends on the votes of three Green Party MLAs, had pledged to use every tool available to stop the project. After the NDP formed government in July, it announced it would join court challenges to the pipeline.
“I’m disappointed with the decision,” Horgan said Tuesday.
It “rings hollow” for the federal government to declare a “climate emergency” one day, then approve a project the next day that could have “catastrophic” environmental impacts and increase carbon emissions, he said.
Horgan said he’d spoken with Trudeau earlier that day. “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 in British Columbia.”
B.C. will continue with its reference case seeking a ruling from the Supreme Court of Canada on the provincial government’s right to regulate the shipment of materials within the province. A unanimous decision at the B.C. Court of Appeal last month came down against the province.
“This is not just about this project,” Horgan said. “It’s about protecting provincial jurisdiction and ensuring the government of British Columbia can do everything within its power to protect those things that are so important to British Columbians.”
The provincial government will keep responding to permit applications for the project and will do what it can to make sure there is no impact on the marine environment, he said.
B.C. Environment Minister George Heyman said it was up to the federal government whether to approve the project and it will be up to Indigenous governments to decide whether or not to launch new court challenges to it.
“Our government continues to maintain that the TMX project poses very significant risks to our environment, to our coast and to our economy and we continue to assert there are potentially catastrophic consequences of a diluted bitumen spill,” he said.
“Tens of thousands of British Columbians’ jobs are at risk and billions of dollars of economic activity are also at risk.”
British Columbians remain deeply concerned over a seven-fold increase in tanker traffic in the Salish Sea, Heyman said. “We will not abandon our responsibility to protect our land and our water. We’ll continue to stand up and defend our environment, our coast and the tens of thousands of jobs that are dependent on them.”
Earlier this year the NEB recommended approving the project, but found “project-related marine shipping is likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects” on an already stressed Salish Sea.
It also found greenhouse gas emissions from vessels related to the project “are likely to be significant” and that a “worst-case spill” would have significant environmental effects.
However, it recommended that the impact on the environment could be justified considering the benefits of the project and measures to mitigate the effects.
It found: “In the board’s view, the benefits of the project are considerable, including increased access to diverse markets for Canadian oil; jobs created across Canada; the development of capacity of local and Indigenous individuals, communities, and businesses; direct spending on pipeline materials in Canada; and considerable revenues to various levels of government.”
More than 200 people have been arrested while protesting the project, including federal Green Party Leader Elizabeth May and former Burnaby South NDP MP Kennedy Stewart, now the mayor of Vancouver. Opponents of the project include several environmental groups and the Union of BC Indian Chiefs.
BC Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson released a statement saying the approval sends a clear message to Horgan and the NDP government that it shouldn’t obstruct the pipeline. “The majority of British Columbians support this project, including more than 40 First Nations who signed benefits agreements to support the pipeline expansion,” he said.
“While John Horgan and the NDP choose to pick fights with Alberta and Canada and spend taxpayer money on expensive court cases to block the pipeline, we will continue to stand up for B.C. communities and make sure our province shares in the billions of dollars in revenue this project will generate.”
B.C. Green Party leader Andrew Weaver called the federal government’s approval of the project “an abdication of their responsibility to Canadians to show climate leadership” and called for urgent investment in clean technology. “Now is the time for elected leaders to be bold and courageous.”
The project is fiscally foolish, he added. “No compelling business case has been made for the expansion, with Kinder Morgan offloading the risk onto the Canadian taxpayer. Proceeding with the Trans Mountain expansion is a reckless use of taxpayer money.”
The Independent Contractors and Businesses Association welcomed the approval. “We are happy and relieved that construction has been given the green light,” said ICBA president Chris Gardner. “This much-needed expansion should have started years ago... It’s time to build this pipeline and secure the investment, jobs and opportunities that will be an important part of Canada’s long-term prosperity.”
Will George, a member of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation and a leader of the group Protect the Inlet said resistance to the pipeline will continue, starting with an impromptu demonstration in downtown Vancouver Tuesday evening.
“No matter who approves it, this pipeline will not be built," he said. “People in British Columbia are the ones risking disaster from spills and we’re prepared to do whatever it takes to stop this pipeline.”
The executive director of the advocacy group Living Oceans, Karen Wristen, said the approval was a mistake for both the economy and the environment. “The facts are well known: it is impossible for Canada to meet its Paris climate commitments and build oil infrastructure with a 50-year lifespan as well.”
A Wilderness Committee statement said the expansion would increase carbon emissions from Alberta’s tar sands by 20 per cent. The group’s climate campaigner Peter McCartney asked, “How can Canada, as wildfires and floods rage all around us and our citizens are forced to flee their homes, choose to make the climate crisis worse?”
He predicted there will be new court challenges and further civil disobedience that could delay the project for years.