Following reports that he was widely expected to do so — and a promise that the project would go ahead — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has given the green light to the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion project.
Trudeau made the announcement at a press conference on Tuesday afternoon.
“Today, I’m announcing that our government has just approved the Trans Mountain expansion project moving forward,” he said. “The company plans to have shovels in the ground this construction season.”
Tuesday’s announcement marks the second approval of the project. Last year, the expansion was quashed after a Federal Court of Appeal ruling that said the first approval did not include proper consultations with Indigenous groups – a situation Trudeau acknowledged during Tuesday’s announcement.
“That’s exactly what the Federal Court of Appeal told us last August,” he said. “For this pipeline to be considered, we needed to do better… they were right.”
Trudeau then laid out what his government had done since that ruling.
“We directed the National Energy Board (NEB) to examine the direct impacts TMX could have on the marine environment, and provide recommendations,” said Trudeau. “We doubled the size of our consultation teams, and reinitiated Phase 3 consultations with Indigenous communities.” This work, he said, was overseen by former Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci.
““We have a responsibility to ensure that the decisions we make today move us toward a cleaner, sustainable economy,” said Trudeau. “Major resource projects can move forward, but only if we do so in a way that protects the environment and respects Indigenous rights.
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The expansion – which twins an existing pipeline running from Edmonton to Burnaby, BC – will increase shipping capacity from Alberta to BC by 590,000 barrels of crude oil a day.
“The TMX project is a significant investment in Canadians and in Canada’s future that will create thousands of good, middle class jobs, maintain the highest environmental standards, and fund the clean energy solutions that Canada needs to stay competitive on the global stage,” said Trudeau. “Currently, 99% of our conventional energy resources are sold to one market – the United States – at a large discount. We need to diversify our markets to get a fair price for the products we sell.”
The approval of TMX “solves a core economic challenge facing our country,” he added.
The project expansion had been in the works since 2013, although its future was up in the air after Trudeau took office in 2015. The prime minister addressed the issue in a radio interview with the Ryan Jesperson show on February 1, 2018, making it clear that “that pipeline is going to get built.”
The following months saw increased animosity between Canada’s westernmost provinces, with petitions, legal challenges, and targeted ads throwing shade across the provincial border in either direction throughout the following months.
The Government of Canada agreed to purchase the project from Kinder Morgan for $4.5 billion at the end of May 2018, leaving it on the hook to either cover the remaining cost of the project or sell to a third party.
“It’s in Canada’s national interest to protect our environment and invest in tomorrow, while making sure people can feed their families today,” said Trudeau on Tuesday. “By moving forward with the TMX, and investing the profits in our clean energy future, we’re doing exactly that.”
The project’s approval comes just one day after the federal government voted to declare a climate emergency in Canada.
“The environment and the economy go hand-in-hand,” said Trudeau. “When we create prosperity today, we can invest in the clean jobs, technologies, and infrastructure of the future.”
Moving forward, Trudeau said that “every dollar” the federal government earns from this project – as well as any profit from the sale of the pipeline – will be invested in Canada’s clean energy transition.
“In the 21st century, you need to have a plan for the environment, and a plan for the economy,” he said. “”It is estimated that additional corporate income tax revenues from the project alone could generate $500 million per year once the project has been completed,”
This money – as well as any profit from the sale of the pipeline – “will be invested in clean energy projects that will power our homes, businesses, and communities for generations to come,” said Trudeau.
More legal challenges likely: lawyers
Despite today’s approval environmental lawyers said they predict more challenges ahead for the Trans Mountain pipeline and tanker expansion.
“Whether it has this approval or not, the path forward for Trans Mountain will not be an easy one,” said Staff Lawyer Eugene Kung. “When the federal government bought the pipeline from Kinder Morgan, they tried to solve one problem and created a whole host of others.”
Now, said Kung, the federal government “wears many hats,” some of which create a conflict, such as the proponent, the decision-maker, the enforcer of its own laws, and a fiduciary to First Nations.
“It is nearly impossible to make an unbiased decision without a strong moral and ethical compass,” he said. “I won’t be surprised if we see more legal challenges arising from today’s decision.”
In addition to today’s approval, the project still requires hundreds of permits and other approvals before construction can go ahead, and over two dozen hearings must occur before officials can sign off on some parts of the route.
During Tuesday’s announcement, Trudeau said the federal government will also work with Indigenous groups “to make sure they can directly benefit financially from this project – including through equity ownership or revenue sharing.”