The federal government is expected to announce the fate of the troubled Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project on Tuesday, no doubt launching fierce debates regardless of the outcome.
In August 2018, the Federal Court of Appeal quashed project approval for the $7.4-billion expansion, leading to a drawn-out process to revive it.
The court outlined the need to redo the environmental review by the National Energy Board and required that Ottawa consult properly with Indigenous communities.
A May 22 deadline for the federal government to complete the work and release a decision on the project was delayed until June 18.
“Consultations have come to a respectful close now,” Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi said in a Friday interview.
“Cabinet as a collective has to decide whether to approve this project or not … or send it back for further consultations.”
Last year, Ottawa bought Kinder Morgan’s core Canadian assets for $4.5 billion to take ownership of the existing pipeline and promised funding for the expansion. It would nearly triple the Trans Mountain pipeline’s capacity to 890,000 barrels per day.
Here are five things to expect after the Ottawa decision.
The approval of the pipeline expansion could kickstart talks with Indigenous groups about potentially buying a stake in the project.
Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau sent letters to Indigenous communities on the pipeline route about starting the process, should Ottawa give it a green light.
“He would be interested in having conversations with Indigenous communities about equity and revenue sharing,” Sohi said.
Numerous Albertan Indigenous groups have expressed interest, and the province has supported the idea.
Earlier this month, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney held a meeting with First Nations leaders to discuss a $1-billion Indigenous Opportunities Corporation. The proposed Crown corporation would provide technical support on major project opportunities and access to capital markets through loan guarantees or co-invested debt and equity lending from the Alberta government (relevant for projects including the Trans Mountain expansion).
Public backlash and court cases
If the pipeline is approved, it’s likely B.C. environmental activists in opposition to the project will continue to make their voices heard. Hundreds of people protested the pipeline in Vancouver last week in anticipation of the decision.
Likewise, pro-energy activists haven’t been quiet on the issue , organizing a slew of rallies in Calgary and Edmonton over months of delays.
“It’s very unfortunate that energy projects have become so polarized, and it is hurting our potential,” Sohi said.
Legal challenges to the pipeline remain in play as well.
In May, B.C. Premier John Horgan said the province is appealing a B.C. court decision that found the province had no jurisdiction to enact legislation that would restrict the contents of a federally regulated pipeline.
B.C. had launched a reference case in April 2018, formally asking the B.C. Court of Appeal whether B.C. can regulate the flow of heavy oil.
The federal election is slated for Oct. 21. That’s plenty of time for political leaders to campaign for votes, attempting to balance environmental action with promises of job growth in the energy sector.
“Pipelines” remains a favourite word used by politicians during campaigns.
Federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer is planning to release his climate plan Wednesday on the heels of the Trans Mountain decision. In a video posted on his Twitter account, he touted the plan as a strategy to fight climate change and reduce carbon emissions without a carbon tax.
The carbon tax debate rages on
Tuesday’s decision could have implications for Alberta’s climate change policies.
When Ottawa initially approved the Trans Mountain project in 2016, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau lauded then-Alberta premier Rachel Notley’s action on climate change. The NDP’s climate leadership plan, which also included an oilsands emissions cap, was part of Ottawa’s justification for giving the pipeline conditional approval.
Kenney is among conservative premiers against provincial carbon taxes, repealing the levy put in place by Notley’s government. The UCP though did soften its stance on the emissions cap, indicating they aren’t going to change it.
The federal government announced it would impose a carbon tax on Alberta starting Jan. 1, 2020.
“We have been very clear from Day 1 that we prefer provinces to have their own environmental plans in place, including putting a price on pollution,” Sohi said. “If they are unable to do so, or unwilling to do so, the federal government will come in and impose that price on pollution.”
Ongoing energy battles
The Trans Mountain pipeline is far from the only energy debate raging in Canadian politics.
Five Conservative premiers, including Kenney, sent a letter to Trudeau, voicing concern about the proposed federal Bill C-69. They argued the bill will hinder future pipeline projects from being built.
Bill C-69, dubbed the Impact Assessment Act, would overhaul Canada’s energy regulatory process, changing the rules for project approvals and replacing the National Energy Board with a new Canadian energy regulator.
Alberta has also been a vocal opponent of Bill C-48, a federal piece of legislation known as the oil-tanker ban. The province has argued the Oil Tanker Moratorium Act would kill jobs and prevent Alberta’s oil and gas industry from getting its resources to market.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019