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Trans Mountain pipeline expansion gets second green light from Ottawa

Last Updated Jun 19, 2019 at 11:18 am EST

Pipes are seen at the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain facility in Edmonton, Alta., on April 6, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

The federal Liberal government is giving the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion a second lease on life.

“Today I’m announcing that our government has approved the Trans Mountain expansion project going forward,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a news conference in Ottawa after markets closed Tuesday.

“This is a new decision. The company plans to have shovels in the ground this construction season.”

The decision to reapprove the project comes nine months after the Federal Court of Appeal ripped up the original federal approval, citing incomplete Indigenous consultations and a faulty environmental review. Trudeau says the court said the government needed to do better.

“And you know what?” Trudeau said. “They were right.”

Critics, of which there are many, wasted little time denouncing the news and predicting another courtroom rejection.

“The federal decision to buy the pipeline and become the owner makes it impossible to make an unbiased decision,” said Chief Leah George-Wilson of the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation in B.C. “We will be appealing the decision to the Federal Court of Appeal.”

The Liberals ordered the National Energy Board to look at marine shipping impacts; Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi started another round of consultations with Indigenous communities affected by the project.

Tuesday’s decision also comes the day after the Liberals passed a motion in the House of Commons declaring climate change a national emergency that would require more cuts to emissions than have already been promised.

In 2016, the National Energy Board said the production of another 590,000 barrels of oil, which would maximize the twinned pipeline’s capacity, could generate 14-17 million more tonnes of greenhouse gases each year, which means Canada would have to find ways to cut more from other sectors to meet and then exceed its current targets.

RELATED: Trans Mountain timeline: A look at key dates in the project’s history

Trudeau says he is sympathetic to concerns about the environment and the need to transition to cleaner sources of energy, but says that in order to fund that transition, Canada needs to take advantage of its natural resources while they are still needed.

“The policies of the last century will not serve Canadians in this one,” he said, acknowledging the concerns of environmentalists who fear the twinning project will exponentially increase the risk of a catastrophic spill on the West Coast.

“I understand your desire to protect your coastline and your ocean, because I share it,” he said directly to British Columbia residents. “Our top priority is making sure there is no spill in the first place, but we know we need to be prepared for anything.”

Before he was done, however, Trudeau struck a decidedly partisan note, aiming to frame this fall’s federal election campaign in terms of which party can best shepherd economic and resource development through the ever-narrowing gauntlet of environmental grassroots opposition.

“The Conservatives built exactly zero pipelines to new markets, but they did manage to build one thing: extreme animosity between those who want pipelines and those who don’t.”

Trans Mountain, coupled with two Liberal energy bills currently making their way through Parliament, have become the biggest flashpoint between the Liberals and their opponents, with Conservatives demanding the government do more to get the pipeline built and the NDP and Green party urging a full stop.

Green party Leader Elizabeth May and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, whose parties are staking claim to the same political territory, were unequivocal in their opposition to Trudeau’s decision.

“This announcement represents cynicism and hypocrisy at a level that is quite breathtaking,” May said in a statement, citing the Liberal motion passed Monday in the Commons declaring climate change a national emergency.

At the other end of the political spectrum, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer scoffed at the idea the pipeline would ever be built, and cast doubts on Trudeau’s sincerity about supporting the energy industry.

“He hasn’t done anything,” said Scheer. “Show me the pipeline. Where is it?”

The project has also caused major friction between British Columbia and Alberta. Trudeau called both B.C. Premier John Horgan and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney to inform them of the decision Tuesday. Kenney lauded the cabinet decision, but echoed Scheer’s skepticism.

“This second approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline isn’t a victory to celebrate. It’s just another step in a process that has frankly taken too long,” Kenney said.

He urged the federal cabinet to take action on other fronts to get more oil to global energy market, such as accepting proposed amendments on Bill C-69 and abandoning Bill C-48. C-69 overhauls the assessment process for approving major projects like pipelines; C-48 bans oil tankers off B.C.’s northern coast.

The government will require that every dollar in federal revenue coming from the project be reinvested in clean energy and green technology. That includes an estimated $500 million a year in new annual corporate tax revenues once the pipeline is in service, as well as any revenues from the promised sale of the entire expanded pipeline back to the private sector.

“To those who want sustainable energy and a cleaner environment, know that I want that too,” said Trudeau. “But in order to bridge the gap between where we are and where we’re going, we need money to pay for it.”

Trudeau says construction will restart this construction season, but there is no specific date yet. Trans Mountain Canada will have to apply a second time for all the necessary federal, provincial and municipal permits before breaking ground.

Photo credit: Kinder Morgan/CP

The federal cabinet is also requiring another consultation with Indigenous communities affected by the project to determine how they can potentially become economic partners in the project.

The government has accepted the 156 conditions the National Energy Board put on the project approval, but is amending six of them to include requiring Indigenous communities to be involved in developing marine emergency response plans, mitigating potential impacts on sacred sites, and Indigenous involvement in post-construction environmental impact reporting.

There are also eight new accommodations required to take into account Indigenous concerns, including working with some communities to potentially move the route.

Timeline: A look at key dates in Trans Mountain’s history