Trans Mountain pipeline expansion gets green light to proceed

Tuesday's long-awaited decision to reapprove the contentious project comes nine months after the Federal Court of Appeal ripped up the original federal approval.

The Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project is a go.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on Tuesday afternoon that the federal cabinet has approved the expansion of the existing pipeline, which the government bought for $4.5 billion last year after regulatory and political uncertainty led Kinder Morgan to abandon the project.

“Our government has newly approved the Trans Mountain pipeline going forward. The company plans to have shovels in the ground this construction season,” Trudeau told reporters, adding that “every dollar” earned from the pipeline as well as the future sale of it will be invested in clean energy projects.


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The project will proceed under the TransMountain Corporation, the Crown corporation that will be responsible for securing the permits needed to move forward with construction, though the timeline is uncertain — all existing approvals were quashed when the Federal Court issued an injunction last summer.

“It’s likely there will be challenges,” officials acknowledged during a technical briefing on the decision on Tuesday.

Officials say the situation is “unprecedented” but that there will be shovels in the ground this year along parts of the route.

Among the permits the corporation still needs to secure are: approvals from the National Energy Board to authorize construction, authorizations under the Fisheries Act, permits under the Species at Risk Act, approval under the Indian Act, authorization under the Canadian Transportation Act, and approval and licensing under the Explosives Act.

WATCH BELOW: Liberals give Trans Mountain pipeline expansion a re-start after review

The approval suggests that the government believes it has met the criteria laid out by a Federal Court judge last year in a ruling that slapped an injunction on the construction, which had only just begun.

It also means the government is confident the court will deem it has done adequate consultations with Indigenous stakeholders and also taken measures to mitigate the marine impact of the expansion if the approval is challenged in court.

Marine tanker traffic will triple as more vessels arrive at the Burnaby terminal, the end point of the expansion, to load crude oil destined for overseas markets.

WATCH: Andrew Scheer remained skeptical after the Liberals announced Tuesday that they’ll be re-starting the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion

Trudeau also said the government will be launching a new round of consultations on how Indigenous communities can get benefits from the project, including how they can get involved in ownership and financial stakes in the project.

He added he knows the approval will raise a lot of questions for those with concerns about spills and the environmental impact of the project.

“To those who want sustainable energy and a cleaner environment, know that I want that too,” Trudeau said., noting there will be demand for Canada’s existing natural resources even as the world transitions to cleaner forms of energy.

WATCH BELOW: A timeline of the Trans Mountain expansion project

“But in order to bridge the gap between where we are and where we’re going, we need money to pay for it … we should harvest some of what we have and invest the projects in what comes next, building the clean energy future that is already at our doorsteps.”

Owning the pipeline is expected to bring in $200 million in earnings per year for the federal government.

Earlier this year, the government delayed its approval of the pipeline after it did not complete its renewed consultations with Indigenous communities along the pipeline route in time to meet the deadline for cabinet approval of the project.

Following the ruling from the Federal Court, the government restarted consultations with 117 Indigenous stakeholders but refused to set a public timeline for when those talks would wrap up.

WATCH BELOW: Court rules B.C. doesn’t have say in what goes in national pipeline

In a statement, Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Perry Bellegarde said his organization will “ensure rights, title and jursidiction are respected,” and asserted that the feds “must respect these rights.”

“It’s clear First Nations have different positions on this project but they all stand firm that their rights be respected and their traditional territories be protected,” Bellegarde said in a statement.

“Only First Nations can determine if those conditions are met.”

Conservative opposition leader Andrew Scheer said at a Tuesday press conference that approval is “meaningless, without a date and plan to get this built.”

“The real question today is, and the real question Justin Trudeau was unable to answer, is when will the Trans Mountain pipeline actually get built,” he said.

Trudeau had said at the news conference that shovels could be in the ground this summer.

Supporters of the pipeline have pushed the government for approval, arguing Canada needs to be able to get its oil to markets outside the United States.

WATCH: Tim McMillan, president and CEO of CAPP, responds to the approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project.


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Alberta Premier Jason Kenney tweeted that the provincial government “appreciates the second federal cabinet approval of the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion” and that “we need to get a fair price for our country’s energy to create good jobs and pay for public services.”

Kenney said that Canada is “underselling” its resources to the U.S. without the Trans Mountain pipeline and other pipelines to the coasts.

“That doesn’t reduce energy consumption, it just sells Canadians short, making us poorer.”

WATCH: June 9 — Rally against Trans Mountain pipeline held ahead of approval deadline

But Kenney also fired a shot at Bill C-48, federal legislation that would keep oil tankers carrying more than 12,500 tonnes of crude or persistent oil from stopping or unloading product along B.C.’s coast from north Vancouver Island up to the border with Alaska.

He also criticized Bill C-69, which changes Canada’s environmental assessment system that covers major resource and transport projects.

“We never should have been put in the position of depending on one coastal pipeline project,” Kenney tweeted in response to the approval.

“That’s what happened through the cancellation of Northern Gateway and the killing of East, policies now being enshrined in Bills C-48 and C-69.”

WATCH BELOW: Kenney responds to Supreme Court ruling on Trans Mountain — ‘We’re delighted’

On the other side of the spectrum, B.C. Premier John Horgan said he was disappointed with the decision to greenlight the project again.

“I had a conversation with the prime minister this morning and I reiterated our concerns about the consequences of a catastrophic marine spill and the impact that would have, not just on our marine environment but our economy here in British Columbia,” he said at a news conference.

Mike Hurley, the mayor of Burnaby, B.C., which is where Trans Mountain’s Westridge Marine Terminal is located, said the city would keep fighting the expansion despite the federal government’s approval.

READ MORE: Canada’s Trans Mountain purchase is seeing a return of as much as 4.4%

“I am extremely disappointed – but not surprised – that the government of Canada has put oil industry profits ahead of the lives of Burnaby’s residents and our firefighters,” Hurley said in a statement.

“Prime Minister Trudeau once said that governments grant permits but communities grant permission. On behalf of Burnaby council, I can assure you that we do not grant permission.”

The City of Burnaby hopes to join the B.C. government’s appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada after a lower court decided that the province could not restrict the transport of diluted bitumen inside its boundaries.

WATCH: NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says environmental, Indigenous concerns haven’t been met with Trans Mountain

At a press conference on Tuesday, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh called the decision “deeply concerning” and an “affront” to those who raised concerns about the environmental impacts of the project.

“We have opposed this project, believe it is harmful to the coastlines, harmful to people and harmful to workers and is not good for the province of B.C. or for Canada.”

Additionally, Singh said concerns raised by Indigenous communities regarding the project have not yet been addressed.

“The fact that the decision was made before the consultations occurred, that is not meaningful in terms of consultations, when the decision has been pre-determined before meeting with the people impacted,” he said.

Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee issued a statement of his own, calling the decision to greenlight the Trans Mountain expansion “alarming and deeply disappointing.

“The costs to our environment and communities are simply too high,” he said.

“This pipeline, if built, will impose significant negative impacts on our coastal communities, increase the risk of oil spills in our shared waters and double down on carbon-intensive fossil fuels at a time when world leaders need to double down on clean energy.”

The David Suzuki Foundation noted that the Trans Mountain expansion was approved one day after Canada declared a climate emergency.

The move “goes against the policy strides that have been made to reduce emissions,” said a statement from Western Canada director-general Jay Ritchlin.

“Despite efforts to improve some environmental impacts of the projects, we remain concerned that threatened southern resident killer whales will be pushed closer to extinction as they face their own survival tipping point.”

The approval marks the culmination of a balancing act for the government as it heads into a campaign season where it will be forced onto the defensive, both from progressives over whether its environmental regulations have done enough to tackle climate change, and from conservatives over whether its economic challenges have put the average Canadian in a strong position.

WATCH: June 2 — The mayor of Burnaby says he’s taken his concerns about pipeline safety to the prime minister

Much of that will likely boil down to what extent voters are feeling secure in their own economic prospects, and affordability issues like the price of gas and home heating are likely to factor into those feelings even as the government continues to tout strong, big picture fiscal numbers.

The Liberals had initially approved the expansion in 2016 and construction was supposed to start in 2017.

It is expected to create roughly 15,000 jobs in Alberta and B.C. during construction.

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But multiple court challenges and delays stalled the progress to the point that Kinder Morgan walked away and the federal government purchased the pipeline with a pledge to proceed with the expansion itself.

The Parliamentary Budget Office predicts moving forward with the expansion will cost taxpayers an additional $9.3 billion if it is completed by Dec. 31, 2021.

With files from Global’s David Akin

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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