National Energy Board approves Trans Mountain pipeline again

Next step includes cabinet voting on the controversial expansion

The National Energy Board has endorsed an expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline following a reconsideration of its impact on marine life off the B.C. coast.

The energy regulator says an increase in tanker traffic resulting from the pipeline would hurt southern resident killer whales and increase greenhouse gas emissions

But it says those consequences can be justified in light of what would be the pipeline’s benefits.

“While these effects weighed heavily in the NEB’s consideration of project-related marine shipping, the NEB recommends that the government of Canada find that they can be justified in the circumstances, in light of the considerable benefits of the project and measures to minimize the effects.”

The energy board says it will impose 156 conditions on the project if it is approved. It has also made 16 new recommendations to the federal government.

Among those recommendations are measures to offset increased underwater noise and the greater chance that a whale could be hit by a ship. They also include suggestions for better spill response and reducing emissions from tankers.

The board notes the new recommendations deal with areas outside its jurisdiction, but within the purview of the federal government.

Last May, Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced Ottawa would purchase the pipeline for $4.5 billion to ensure the expansion gets built, after operator Kinder Morgan halted its investment in the face of vociferous opposition from environmental groups and some Indigenous communities.

READ MORE: Liberal government to buy Trans Mountain pipeline for $4.5B

Reaction from environmental groups was swift.

Stand.earth, which had tried unsuccessfully to widen the scope of the board’s reconsideration, had said before the ruling that it expected the board to endorse the project again.

“Today’s recommendation is the direct result of the Prime Minister’s Office telling the NEB and federal bureaucrats to ‘get to yes’ on this project,” Tzeporah Berman, director of the Vancouver environmental group, said in a statement.

“Scientific evidence filed with the NEB clearly shows that there is not enough data to ensure the safety of the marine environment … and that the NEB failed to address the climate impacts of this project.”

Alberta has been fighting hard for the Trans Mountain expansion so that the province could move more crude oil to ports and from there to lucrative overseas markets.

The energy board’s original approval of the project was set aside last summer by the Federal Court of Appeal, which said the regulator had not properly considered marine life.

The NEB’s report starts the clock on a 90-day period for the federal government to decide whether the project should proceed.

Officials in Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi’s office have said a final decision won’t be made until consultations with affected Indigenous groups are complete.

Sven Biggs, climate campaigner for Stand.earth, predicted before the ruling that there will be more lawsuits and delays resulting from the board’s support of the project.

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