Ottawa asks NEB to reconsider Trans Mountain recommendations

Ottawa's directive comes after expansion project was dealt a major blow in August

Credit: Kinder Morgan Canada

The federal government is calling on the National Energy Board (NEB) to reconsider its recommendations on Kinder Morgan Canada’s troubled Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project.

Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi said the NEB would be required to complete a review of its recommendations within 22 weeks.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said in a press conference that the 22-week time frame is "reasonable," but warned that her government "will not tolerate legal game playing" that might draw the process out.

The new review timeline means it won't be complete until February. In May, Albertans go to the polls in a provincial election. If there is no movement by then on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, it could seriously damage Notley's chances of winning the next election.

Notley reiterated that Alberta will continue to withhold her government's support for the Trudeau government's national climate action plan, which includes national carbon pricing, until the expansion is approved and underway.

"Whatever tools are used, our focus now is to ensure that the timeline is set in stone," Notley said. "That's the issue. And if it starts to slip, and the goalposts shift, I can assure you that the voices of Albertans will be loud. Individually, they will be loud, I have no doubt of that, but through my government, they will be heard."

The expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline, which runs between northern Alberta and Burnaby, was dealt a blow last month when the Federal Court of Appeal ruled the NEB failed to properly consider the impacts of increased tanker traffic on the marine environment from an expanded pipeline.

The expansion would increase oil tanker traffic from five to 34 tankers per month.

Because it failed to consider the impacts on the marine environment, including the impact on killer whales, the appeal court said federal cabinet was not fully informed on environmental impacts when an order in council gave the expansion the green light.

That order in council decision is now quashed.

The court has ordered that the issue of marine traffic now be referred back to the NEB "or its successor."

The government plans to present the NEB with recent actions it’s taken to protect southern resident killer whales and implement the Oceans Protection Plan.

It also intends to appoint a special marine technical adviser to the NEB.

Environmental groups immediately slammed the announcement, saying the Trudeau government has, so far, failed to indicate whether it plans to appeal a federal appeal court ruling to the Supreme Court of Canada, and has yet to say what it plans to do about the other flaw identified by the appeal court: further consultations with First Nations.

“While the government does need to take steps to correct the mistakes in the NEB’s review of marine shipping impacts, we are very concerned about the lack of a concrete plan or timeline for renewed Indigenous consultation – which is a glaring omission,” said Jessica Clogg, executive director for West Coast Environmental Law.

However, the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation said it welcomed today's announcement.

"The Tsleil-Waututh Nation welcomes the federal government’s recognition of our long held position that marine shipping should have been included in the National Energy Board’s environmental assessment of the Trans Mountain expansion project," the Tsleil-Waututh said in a press release

-With files from Nelson Bennett