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EcoJustice Canada, environmental groups launch lawsuit over Northern Gateway report

The Trans Mountain pipeline is twinned in Jasper, Alberta. - Tom Fletcher, Black Press
The Trans Mountain pipeline is twinned in Jasper, Alberta.
— image credit: Tom Fletcher, Black Press

The Gateway's going through court.

Environmental groups and at least two First Nations have launched a lawsuit in Canada's Federal Court of Appeal, seeking to block federal government approval of Enbridge's proposed Northern Gateway pipeline.

The suit has been brought forward by Ecojustice, working on behalf of ForestEthics Advocacy, Living Oceans Society and the Raincoast Conservation Foundation. At least three others were filed on Friday in Vancouver, by the Haisla Nation, the Gitxaala, and the Environmental Law Centre at the University of Victoria.

According to the Smithers Interior-News, EcoJustice is "asking for an injunction to postpone the government's cabinet decision until the court case is completed."

"Hopefully our court challenge will result in better decision making on this project," said ForestEthics campaigner Nikkie Skuce, a resident of Smithers, B.C. "There's too much at risk not to try to use all of our tools in our toolbox to stop Northern Gateway."

A federal review from December – the Joint Review Panel – has recommended the pipeline proceed, but with 209 conditions. Friday's lawsuits claim the panel's report put the benefits to the oil sands industry ahead of "adverse effects on certain aspects of the environment."

"The Joint Review Panel's (JRP) final report, the groups say, is based on insufficient evidence and does not satisfy the environmental assessment process," reads the official statement from EcoJustice Canada.

The federal panel said, in December, "It is our view that, after mitigation, the likelihood of significant adverse environmental effects resulting from project malfunctions or accidents is very low."

From the Interior-News: "Among the reasons for the lawsuit are the JRP concluded that diluted bitumen is unlikely to sink in an ocean environment, even though a federal study released earlier this week suggests otherwise; allowed Enbridge to assess geohazard risks, like landslides, during construction instead of before; did not consider the federal recovery strategy for the Pacific Humpback Whale, whose critical habitat overlaps with the proposed tanker route; and refused to consider the environmental impacts of upstream oilsands development, even though it did include the economic benefits of upstream development."

The federal government is expected to give its final decision on the pipeline this spring, or sometime in the next six months.

From EcoJustice Canada's website:

"Any decision about Northern Gateway must be based on the best available science... That's why the panel's incomplete and flawed report cannot stand as the final word on whether Northern Gateway is in the national interest.

"The battle over Northern Gateway has come to stand for more than just the fate of one pipeline project. It's become the epicentre of the debate over Canada's energy future."

Also: "The panel made its recommendation despite known gaps in the evidence, particularly missing information about the risk of geohazards along the pipeline route and what happens to diluted bitumen when it is spilled in the marine environment."

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