The Federal Court of Appeal dealt a major blow to the TransMountain pipeline expansion Thursday, overturning the federal government’s approval and effectively halting construction.
The court found the National Energy Board review of the $7.4‑billion project was so flawed it failed to provide the government with the information needed to approve the project.
The ruling is a major setback and raised the prospects of a lengthy delay that could kill the expansion. The court has ordered the federal government to include project-related marine shipping in its reviews and to redo consultations with First Nations.
Shortly after the ruling, Kinder Morgan shareholders approved the previously announced sale of the pipeline and expansion project to the federal government for $4.5 billion.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a massive bet on the pipeline back in the spring when he decided to effectively nationalize it by buying the project from Kinder Morgan, which had concluded that proceeding with construction could be too risky for the company given uncertain prospects for completion.
Trudeau’s intention in taking over the project was to give it the stability and surety needed to overcome fierce opposition and logistical hurdles to completion.
But that move has now been foiled. The pipeline’s fate is as uncertain as ever.
“Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and through him Canadian taxpayers, now own a pipeline that may not be built for years, if ever,” observed The Globe and Mail’s Gary Mason. “While Ottawa will make all the appropriate noises about addressing the consultation shortcomings and other issues identified by the court, don’t be misled: This verdict has the effect of starting over again on many fronts.”
The ruling is a huge blow not only to Justin Trudeau and his not-that liberal Liberals, but also to Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and Alberta politicians who fiercely support building the pipeline at any cost.
“Disaster. Political, economic, even constitutional. Undiluted disaster.”
Those were the opening words of columnist Don Braid’s response to the court decision in the Calgary Herald, in which he lamented the ruling and predicted big trouble for Rachel Notley’s NDP government in Alberta. His colleague Jason Wood filed a separate story suggesting Notley’s reelection next year is in grave peril.
No one in Canada has been a bigger booster for the pipeline than Notley. She made a bad choice to tie her political future to the pipeline’s construction and now she will have to live with that choice. It could mean her defeat in 2019.
Canada’s future, and the United States’ future, cannot be based on dirty energy if we’re to have any hope of stopping the climate crisis from getting worse.
Yet Notley, just like Trudeau, wanted to bet big on dirty energy.
Next door in British Columbia, however, Notley’s fellow NDP Premier John Horgan was celebrating the decision, having staked out a very different position.
Although Horgan and Notley are both NDP leaders at the provincial level and would thus seem to be natural allies, they are actually at complete and bitter odds with each other on the question of constructing the pipeline. Horgan recognizes the threat the project represents… to the Salish Sea, to the southern resident orca population, to coastal ecosystems, and to the world’s climate.
“This case has always been about First Nations asserting their rights and today they carried the day,” said Horgan. “We joined the case to defend BC’s interests and highlight the risks to the province’s environment and economy.”
“Many British Columbians have been saying that the Trans Mountain project would create serious risks to our coast,” the Premier added.
“The Federal Court of Appeal has validated those concerns.”
“Today’s ruling is a victory for First Nations’ rights and for all those who have long held that this project was not approved based on evidence,” agreed B.C. Greens Leader Andrew Weaver in a statement.
(The B.C. Greens have a supply and confidence agreement with the B.C. NDP that allows the NDP, or the New Democratic Party, to govern the province.)
“I am particularly glad to see the court’s judgement that there was an unjustifiable failure at the heart of the federal government’s approval of this project: the failure to assess the impacts of marine shipping on the environment.”
“This was an outrageous omission on the part of the federal government that flies in the face of their stated commitment to evidence-based decision-making. The NEB acknowledged that the marine traffic from this project posed significant harm to the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales. The government must now justify to Canadians, and to the world, why it is willing to herald the death knell of this irreplaceable species if it continues to pursue this project.”
“Coming off of the two worst wildfire seasons in B.C.’s history, it’s clear that we cannot continue down the misguided path of expanding fossil fuel infrastructure. We owe it to our children and grandchildren to begin the immediate transition to the low-carbon economy. B.C. is a leader amongst the provinces, adopting carbon tax increases that are ahead of federal requirements.”
“Our Caucus is working closely with the B.C. NDP minority government to create a clean growth strategy that will further advance our efforts. I hope the federal government will now realize that there is an enormous opportunity to support B.C.’s leadership, rather than attempting to force our province to shoulder the huge environmental and economic risks that this project presents.”
NPI congratulates the Raincoast Foundation, Living Oceans Society, the cities of Vancouver and Burnaby, the Tsleil-Waututh and Squamish First Nations, the Coldwater Indian Band, and all the other indigenous tribes who have stood up against this monstrosity of a project. This pipeline may not be dead, but it looks like construction has effectively been thwarted for the time being. That’s a huge win and one that our coast, orcas, and climate sorely needed.
Everyone involved in securing this court victory deserves a big round of applause and deep thanks from this side of the border.