NEWS
06/20/2016 13:07 EDT | Updated 06/21/2017 01:12 EDT

Vancouver joins No side in asking for court review of Trans Mountain approval

VANCOUVER — The City of Vancouver is the latest to launch a court challenge aiming to quash the National Energy Board's recommendation that the federal government approve the $6.8-billion Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

The Squamish Nation, the Living Oceans Society and the Raincoast Conservation Foundation filed their own applications for judicial review in the Federal Court of Appeal last week.

The city said in its court application that the energy board's recommendation to approve the expansion of the oil pipeline, subject to 157 conditions, is invalid and unlawful.

It said that despite the city's concerns throughout the two-year process, the board excluded oral cross-examination, provided inadequate information sharing and failed to properly consult communities along the pipeline and tanker route.

Mayor Gregor Robertson said the board ignored key pieces of scientific evidence showing the potential for "real and catastrophic" damage to local waters in the event of an oil spill, and the impact of an expanded pipeline on greenhouse gas emissions both locally and abroad.

"An expanded Kinder Morgan pipeline is not in Vancouver or Canada's economic or environmental interest," he said in a statement.

The city has also asked the court to prevent the federal government from making a decision on the project until after the energy board conducts a lawful review.

The National Energy Board said it could not comment specifically on the city's application.

The board heard from 73 indigenous participants and 400 interveners before issuing its report and conditional recommendation last month. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's cabinet is set to make a decision on the project in December.

Trans Mountain, a subsidiary of Kinder Morgan Canada, wants to triple the capacity of its existing pipeline, which runs from oilsands near Edmonton to Metro Vancouver. The expansion would add nearly 1,000 kilometres of new pipe and increase tanker traffic in Burrard Inlet seven-fold.

Ali Hounsell, a spokeswoman for Trans Mountain, said it is currently reviewing the court applications and will be responding more fully through the court process.

Trudeau promised a "new, open process" for all pipelines on the campaign trail. On Monday, his government announced an across-the-board review of environmental assessments and the National Energy Board.

A separate ministerial panel has already been announced to conduct further indigenous consultation on Trans Mountain. Environment and Climate Change Canada also conducted an assessment of the project's upstream greenhouse gas emissions.

Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr said Monday that the interim measures were an "improved process" meant to address concerns over the NEB's review.

"A lot of the objections are over the processes that were implemented by the National Energy Board, which is why the government announced a ministerial panel that will take a number of months to listen to those people who feel they were not heard properly," Carr told reporters in Ottawa.

A statement from Natural Resources Canada said it could not comment on the city's application for judicial review while the matter is before the courts.

Chris Tollefson, a University of Victoria law professor who represented B.C. Nature and Nature Canada in the Trans Mountain hearings, said the legal challenges could force the federal government to delay its decision on the pipeline project.

"I think there's a good possibility that the government will take a close look at these lawsuits and the claims that are being made, and it may, based on that, send some homework back to the NEB."

Enbridge's (TSX:ENB) Northern Gateway pipeline project faced a series of similar court challenges after the federal cabinet approved the project in 2014.

Eight First Nations, four environmental groups and one labour union launched the challenges, which were heard together at the Federal Court of Appeal last fall. The court has yet to release a decision.

— With files from Bruce Cheadle