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NEB endorses pipeline

UPDATE: 9:25 a.m.

The National Energy Board has endorsed an expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline following a reconsideration of its impact on marine life off the B.C. coast.

The energy regulator says an increase in tanker traffic resulting from the pipeline would hurt southern resident killer whales and increase greenhouse gas emissions.

But it says the side effects can be justified in light of the "considerable benefits" of the project.

Alberta has been fighting hard for the Trans Mountain expansion so that the province could move more crude oil to ports and from there to lucrative overseas markets.

The energy board's original approval of the project was set aside last summer by the Federal Court of Appeal, which said the regulator had not properly considered on marine life.

The NEB's report starts the clock on a 90-day period for the federal government to decide whether the project should proceed.

Officials in Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi's office have said a final decision won't be made until consultations with affected Indigenous groups are complete.

The consultations were also an issue the federal Appeal Court raised when it put a halt on the project.


ORIGINAL: 6:50 a.m.

An environmental group that tried to widen the scope of the National Energy Board's reconsideration of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion says it fully expects the board to endorse the project today.

"I think the NEB has a long record of siding with industry over communities and other concerns ... so we have every expectation that they're going to recommend the project go ahead despite the serious problems with it," said Sven Biggs, climate campaigner for Stand.earth, a Vancouver environmental group formerly called ForestEthics.

Opponents of the project are already planning their response, which will include legal challenges, he said on Thursday.

"It's likely there are going to be more lawsuits and more delays because of them, and if the cabinet decides to go ahead and restart construction, you'll see protests in the streets and along the pipeline route," he said.

The federal regulator is scheduled to release its recommendations today but the restart of construction of the controversial crude conduit from Edmonton to Burnaby still faces hurdles.

The NEB's 2016 approval of the project was set aside last summer by the Federal Court of Appeal which found that the regulator had not properly considered how southern resident killer whales would be affected by additional tanker traffic because of the increase in crude oil flows.

The court also found there was insufficient consultation by the federal government with Indigenous communities.

In response, Ottawa ordered the NEB to reopen its review process to fill in the gap on marine life and Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi ordered a new round of consultations with affected Indigenous groups.

The NEB report's delivery will start the clock on a 90-day deadline for cabinet to decide whether the project should proceed, but officials in Sohi's office have said a final decision won't be made until consultations are complete, which means delays are possible.

Vanessa Adams, spokeswoman for Sohi, wouldn't comment on Thursday on whether a cabinet ruling could be delayed. But she said in an email the federal government wants to "achieve the required public trust" to help move resources to market by first addressing environmental, Indigenous and local concerns.

She said a 60-member consultation team in British Columbia and Alberta has met with more than 85 of 117 Indigenous groups impacted by TMX and more meetings are taking place daily.

On Tuesday, the NEB rejected a motion by Stand.earth filed on Jan. 21 demanding it add consideration of the project's upstream and downstream greenhouse gas emissions to its review of marine shipping issues.

The group had asked the board to apply the same standard to the project as it did with the cancelled Energy East pipeline before it submits its final report to the federal government.

But the federal regulator said Stand.earth's proposal missed its deadlines and repeated requests made by several other parties that had already been denied.



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