Regulator’s report, coming today, unlikely to settle Trans Mountain pipeline battle

The Trans Mountain pipeline will remain a controversial topic both in the political ring and out

An environmental group that tried to widen the scope of the National Energy Board’s reconsideration of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion says it fully expects the board to endorse the project again in its ruling today.

“I think the NEB has a long record of siding with industry over communities and other concerns … so we have every expectation that they’re going to recommend the project go ahead despite the serious problems with it,” said Sven Biggs, climate campaigner for Stand.earth, a Vancouver environmental group formerly called ForestEthics.

Opponents of the project are already planning their response, which will include legal challenges, he said on Thursday.

“It’s likely there are going to be more lawsuits and more delays because of them, and if the cabinet decides to go ahead and restart construction, you’ll see protests in the streets and along the pipeline route,” he said.

The federal regulator is scheduled to release its recommendations today but the restart of construction of the controversial crude conduit from Edmonton to Burnaby, B.C., still faces hurdles.

READ MORE: Dismantle National Energy Board, create bodies for regulation and growth, says panel

READ MORE: Energy board to hear traditional Indigenous evidence in Trans Mountain review

The NEB’s 2016 approval of the project was set aside last summer by the Federal Court of Appeal which found that the regulator had not properly considered how southern resident killer whales would be affected by additional tanker traffic because of the increase in crude oil flows.

The court also found there was insufficient consultation by the federal government with Indigenous communities.

In response, Ottawa ordered the NEB to reopen its review process to fill in the gap on marine life and Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi ordered a new round of consultations with affected Indigenous groups.

The NEB report’s delivery will start the clock on a 90-day deadline for cabinet to decide whether the project should proceed, but officials in Sohi’s office have said a final decision won’t be made until consultations are complete, which means delays are possible.

TIMELINE: Key dates in the history of the Trans Mountain pipeline

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Vanessa Adams, spokeswoman for Sohi, wouldn’t comment on Thursday on whether a cabinet ruling could be delayed.

But she said in an email the federal government wants to “achieve the required public trust” to help move resources to market by first addressing environmental, Indigenous and local concerns.

She said a 60-member consultation team in British Columbia and Alberta has met with more than 85 of 117 Indigenous groups impacted by TMX and more meetings are taking place daily.

On Tuesday, the NEB rejected a motion by Stand.earth filed on Jan. 21 demanding it add consideration of the project’s upstream and downstream greenhouse gas emissions to its review of marine shipping issues.

The group had asked the board to apply the same standard to the project as it did with the cancelled Energy East pipeline before it submits its final report to the federal government.

READ MORE: 42 Order of Canada recipients from B.C. urge feds to cancel pipeline expansion

But the federal regulator said Stand.earth’s proposal missed its deadlines and repeated requests made by several other parties that had already been denied.

Meantime, cabinet is under immense pressure to decide the fate of the pipeline before the federal election in the fall.

There is also pressure to get the expansion built because Ottawa bought the existing pipeline from Kinder Morgan for $4.5 billion last August, after political opposition to the expansion left the company’s shareholders reluctant to proceed.

Dan Healing, The Canadian Press

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