The new BC NDP government is taking action to fight the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion in Burnaby, it has been announced.
Minister of the Environment and Climate Change Strategy George Heyman and Attorney General David Eby revealed the plans at a news conference on Thursday.
Heyman said the government’s action will take two forms – legal and consultative.
To help fight the pipeline in court, the province has secured Thomas Berger, QC as external legal council.
“He is a living example of modern First Nations law in Canada,” said Eby. “He is an expert in this area of law, recognized internationally for his work.”
“We think he is absolutely the right person to guide us in this.”
Berger will both advise the province on existing court cases and on any other potential legal tools they may have to stop the pipeline project.
Two court actions on the way
Eby explained there are two court actions underway with regards to the Kinder Morgan pipeline proposal.
The first is a judicial review of the National Energy Board’s recommendation to go ahead with the project. That case will begin in November in federal court.
The province would be seeking intervenor status in that case, said Eby. This would allow the province to take an active role at the hearings to represent the interests of BC.
The second is a court case brought by Squamish First Nation against the BC government, challenging the adequacy of consultation with them.
A trial date has not yet been set for that case, said Eby, although the previous BC government had already responded, defending themselves.
That leaves the new BC government in a difficult position, but Eby said he is confident that hiring Berger sends the right message.
First Nations consultations required
Heyman said the province would be enforcing consultations on the potential impacts of the project on First Nations and on the environment.
This relates to the fact that Kinder Morgan has to meet certain requirements according to the environmental assessment certificate issued by the previous government, he said.
“Before they can begin work, the certificate required them to complete environmental management plans. There are eight, only three have been accepted to date,” he said.
“The other five have been not accepted because they have not met the test of adequate consultation with First Nations.”
These plans concern grizzly bears, vegetation and weed management, archaeology, the cold water aquifer, and workforce accommodation impacts, said Heyman.
“Until those plans are completed, Kinder Morgan, with the exception of private land and with the exception of some clearing of right of way, cannot put shovels in the ground.”
“They need to have those work plans accepted… Until it is completed, they are not able to begin work, they will be in violation of their environmental assessment certificate.”
Policy follows years of protest
The pipeline expansion is intended to increase the capacity of the existing pipeline from 300,000 barrels per day to 890,000 barrels per day.
But given the fact that it would plough through a big chunk of the Burnaby Mountain Conservation Area, the plan has proven extremely controversial over recent years.
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Two years ago, many protesters camped out on the mountain were arrested. Meanwhile the City of Burnaby even took Kinder Morgan to court over the proposal, to no avail.
In Vancouver, a protest against the pipeline expansion last November saw 4,000 people march through the streets with the support of Mayor Gregor Robertson.
The former BC government under the BC Liberals had said it was up to the federal government to decide whether to allow the project to go ahead or not.
Justin Trudeau ended up approving the pipeline expansion in November last year, saying that decision was “based on rigorous debate, science and evidence.”
‘Path forward will be challenging’
During the recent election campaign, the BC NDP and the BC Greens opposed the pipeline expansion, and pledged to fight it if elected.
Heyman said the province is also reviewing a number of other measures they could take to try to stop the pipeline expansion going ahead.
“We’ll be reviewing our environmental standards in British Columbia as well as our standards for First Nations consultation,” he said.
“We’ll have more to announce in the future, but this is our first step today.”
Regardless, back in May, Trudeau reaffirmed that he is still backing the pipeline project despite any opposition from a new BC government.
Speaking on Thursday, Heyman said the BC government would use every tool available to defend BC’s coast “in the face of this threat.”
“We know with the federal government’s approval of this project, the path forward will be challenging, but we’re committed to stepping up and fighting for BC’s interests.”