Trans Mountain regulatory win shifts focus to Trudeau’s cabinet

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi visit the Trans Mountain terminal in Edmonton in June 2018. Image: Flickr/Justin Trudeau

Canadian energy regulators’ decision to recommend approval of the Trans Mountain oil pipeline expansion won applause from the project’s supporters, but they’re already pressing Justin Trudeau’s cabinet to give it the government’s official blessing in a timely manner.

With the National Energy Board (NEB)’s recommendation in hand, Trudeau’s government has 90 days to issue its own approval for the project. However, the government still is consulting with indigenous groups along the pipeline’s route, and it can extend that window if it determines that those meetings need more time.

For supporters of Trans Mountain, the cabinet’s approval can’t come too soon. That’s because they’ve already seen the expansion project delayed when a judge struck down the project’s initial approval in August, necessitating the new NEB review and the additional Indigenous consultations.

“We’re pleased that we’ve got a recommendation to the federal cabinet, and hopefully we can see them move forward in a timely way,” Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said at a press conference in Calgary.

Notley said she didn’t expect the cabinet to approve the project before Alberta’s provincial election, which must happen by May, but she did expect it before the federal election, which could happen as late as October.

‘Strong position’

Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi said in an interview with BNN Bloomberg Television that while the government wouldn’t commit to a firm timeline for its decision, the government is in “a strong position” to make a ruling within that 90-day timeframe.

Environmental groups, on the other hand, blasted the NEB’s decision and promised to continue their opposition. Environmental Defence said the approval recommendation will be vulnerable to legal challenges because the process was unreasonably short, preventing experts from being able to submit evidence. The group also criticized the NEB for excluding climate effects from its review, ignoring a standard the regulator set in its review of the proposed Energy East pipeline, which ultimately was abandoned.

“The NEB has shown, again, that it is little more than a rubber-stamping body,” Keith Brooks, Environmental Defence’s programs director, said in an emailed statement. “This decision demonstrates that it clearly does not take environmental protection seriously.”

© 2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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