Alberta pulling out of federal climate change plan until pipeline construction resumes

Alberta will pull out of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s national climate change plan until construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion gets back on track, Premier Rachel Notley said Thursday after the Federal Court of Appeal quashed approvals for the project.

“As important as climate action is to our province’s future I have also always said that taking the next step, in signing on to the federal climate plan, can’t happen without the Trans Mountain pipeline,” Notley told reporters in a live address Thursday evening.

“So today I am announcing that with the Trans Mountain halted, and the work on it halted, until the federal government gets its act together; Alberta is pulling out of the federal climate plan,” she added.

“And let’s be clear, without Alberta that plan isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.”

The premier said she was angered by the court decision that essentially suspends construction of the pipeline indefinitely, saying the ruling is bad for working families and the economic security of Canada.  

“The current state of affairs in Canada is such that building a pipeline to tidewater is practically impossible,”  Notley said.

The ruling is a major victory for Indigenous groups and environmentalists opposed to the $7.4-billion project.

In its decision, written by Justice Eleanor Dawson, the court found the National Energy Board’s assessment of the project was so flawed that it should not have been relied on by the federal cabinet when it gave final approval to proceed in November 2016.

The certificate approving construction and operation of the project has been nullified, leaving it in legal limbo until the energy regulator and the government reassess their approvals to satisfy the court’s demands.

In effect, the court has halted construction of the 1,150-kilometre project indefinitely.

Amid uncertainty, Kinder Morgan agreed to sell the existing pipeline and the expansion project to the federal government this spring. The company’s shareholders overwhelmingly approved the sale Thursday morning in Calgary in a previously scheduled vote held just after the court’s decision was released.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said earlier on Twitter that he had spoken with Notley and assured her his government would continue to back the project. 

Now, the Liberal government is the owner of a proposed pipeline project that could be subject to years of further review.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau said the federal government is carefully reviewing the decision but is determined to proceed with the project, that, he said, is in the best national interest and “critically important” for the economy.

“We are absolutely committed to moving ahead with this project,” he said at a news conference in Toronto. “What the decision today asked us to do is to respond promptly; gave us some direction on how we can do that in a way that is going to be efficient from a time standpoint. So we will be considering our next steps in light of that.” 

Squamish First Nation council member and spokesperson Khelsilem Rivers joined Power & Politics Thursday to discuss the federal court’s decision to quash the federal government’s approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. 6:16

Morneau said the Liberal government inherited a “flawed process” for reviewing the project.

He described the pipeline purchase as a good investment that will yield strong returns in years ahead, and that the deal to buy it will be finalized as early as Friday.

In its initial study of the project, the NEB found that the pipeline would not cause significant adverse environmental impacts.

But the court has determined that conclusion is flawed because it did not assess the impacts of marine shipping — increased tanker traffic that would result from the expanded pipeline — on the environment and southern resident killer whales in the waters around the line’s shipping terminal.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau spoke to reporters in Toronto on Thursday 1:34

More consultation required

The appellate court also found that the federal government did not adequately, or meaningfully, consult with Indigenous people and hear out their concerns after the NEB issued its report recommending that cabinet approve the project.

The court has ordered the federal government redo its Phase 3 consultation.

“Only after that consultation is completed and any accommodation made can the project be put before the Governor in Council (cabinet) for approval,” the decision reads.

“The duty to consult was not adequately discharged in this case.”

The twinning of the existing pipeline would nearly triple its capacity to an estimated 890,000 barrels a day and increase traffic off B.C.’s coast from approximately five tankers to 34 tankers a month. (CBC News)

Squamish Nation celebrates

Thus, the court is ordering cabinet to direct the NEB to reconsider its approval of the project and remedy some of the concerns raised by the court before cabinet can give the final go-ahead for construction.

Khelsilem, councillor and spokesperson for Squamish Nation in B.C., said many are feeling “elation and happiness and joy” with today’s ruling.

“This government played politics with our livelihood,” he said. “They did not behave honourably and the courts agreed every step of the way.”

Khelsilem said the consultation with First Nations was more like note-taking than meaningful consideration.

Other First Nations, however, expressed hope that the project would proceed, including the Whispering Pines First Nation near Kamloops, B.C., part of a contingent that supports the pipeline going ahead under Indigenous control and is trying to buy it.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer called today’s ruling “devastating” news for Canadian workers and taxpayers and a “complete indictment” of the Trudeau government’s efforts to get the project off the ground.

Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer spoke to reporters in Winnipeg Thursday 1:23

“Today’s development is further eroding the confidence in this Liberal government’s ability to get big projects built,” he said. “They either kill or cancel the projects based on ideology, or they mismanage and bungle them to the point where they’re in a very precarious position.”

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said the ruling shows the Liberals have failed to live up to their obligation to respectfully consult with Indigenous people. He said the government should stop construction and explore legal options to stop the sale of the project.

B.C. Premier John Horgan said on Twitter that the ruling was a victory for First Nations rights and his province’s economy and environment. 

“Many British Columbians have been saying that the Trans Mountain project would create serious risks to our coast. Today the Federal Court of Appeal has validated those concerns,”  Horgan said. 

Just three days ago, the Trans Mountain Twitter account posted pictures of workers beginning construction of the pipeline expansion.

“Pipeline construction for the #TransMountain Expansion Project has officially begun! We celebrated the big milestone over the weekend, as crews kicked off construction in Central #Alberta,” the tweet read.

In a statement, Kinder Morgan confirmed construction will now stop.

“Trans Mountain is currently taking measures to suspend construction related activities on the Project in a safe and orderly manner,” the statement reads.

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