Environmental groups seek review on Northern Gateway decision

One applicant wants court order barring federal cabinet from giving project final approval until review is complete

VANCOUVER – Several environmental groups and at least one First Nation are asking the Federal Court for a judicial review of the panel decision recommending approval of the Northern Gateway oil pipeline.

One of the applicants also wants a court order barring the federal cabinet from giving the project final approval until the review is complete.

The groups say the review process was flawed because the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency panel did not have sufficient evidence to make that recommendation and it failed to meet the legal requirements of a proper assessment under the law.

“We’re profoundly disappointed by the conclusions in the report and the way in which they reached those conclusions, which has left us with no option but to feel that we need to take this before the courts,” said Karen Campbell, a staff lawyer for Ecojustice.

At least three applications for judicial review of the panel’s decision were filed Friday in Vancouver, one by the Haisla Nation, one by the Environmental Law Centre at the University of Victoria on behalf of B.C. Nature and Nature Canada and another by Ecojustice, on behalf of Forest Ethics Advocacy, Living Oceans Society and the Raincoast Conservation Foundation.

The lawsuits claim the joint review by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency panel erred by considering the economic benefits of the project to the Alberta oilsands, but ignoring the adverse effects of the development.

They also said the panel made its decision despite gaps in the evidence, including a federal study of diluted bitumen and how it behaves in water that was quietly released by Environment Canada after the panel wrapped up hearings.

The panel also didn’t get to consider a federal recovery strategy for humpback whales published by Environment Canada after the hearings ended — five years after it was due under the federal Species At Risk Act — nor did it have all necessary information on the geohazards along the pipeline route, Ecojustice said.

“All relevant information that should have been considered during the review hearings,” the group said in a statement.

The humpback whale recovery strategy identified toxic spills and vessel traffic as two threats to the whales listed federally as endangered.

No one from Northern Gateway was immediately available to comment on the lawsuits, which name Northern Gateway Pipelines, the Attorney General of Canada, the National Energy Board and the federal environment minister.

The Haisla application focuses on the project’s direct impact on its aboriginal community that has territory encircling Kitimat, the would-be terminus of the 1,200-kilometre pipeline.

Jennifer Griffith, lawyer for the Haisla, said the panel didn’t properly consider the impact on Haisla heritage and didn’t assess the adequacy of the Crown consultations with First Nations, or the effect the decision will have on aboriginal rights.

“There are a number of flaws,” said Nikki Skuce, of Forest Ethics.

“I don’t think the voices of British Columbians were heard … and I don’t think enough consideration was given to First Nations and communities that live along, and would be impacted by, the pipeline.

“I don’t know what hearings those three panellists were in, because the ones that I was in there were people passionately speaking out against this project at every turn.”

The federal cabinet has 180 days from the time they received the report to make a final decision on the pipeline that would connect Alberta oil sands to a tanker port on the B.C. coast for export to lucrative markets of Asia.