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Pipes sit stacked at a TransCanada project in this file photo (Scott Dalton/Bloomberg)
Pipes sit stacked at a TransCanada project in this file photo (Scott Dalton/Bloomberg)

energy & resources

Trudeau to announce decision on pipeline projects Add to ...

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is poised to make an announcement late Tuesday before meeting with Alberta Premier Rachel Notley on the expansion Canada’s pipeline capacity, a key demand from the premier in exchange for her support of the prime minister’s climate change strategy.

The Prime Minister’s Office announced that Mr. Trudeau will hold a press conference and then meet Ms. Notley, on a day when Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr was set to announce the government’s decisions on key pipeline projects.

Ms. Notley’s appearance has spurred speculation that the Liberals are set to approve Kinder Morgan Inc.’s proposed expansion of its Trans Mountain pipeline from Alberta to Vancouver Harbour, a project that is staunchly opposed by mayors and council on B.C. lower mainland as well as by First Nations communities whose traditional territory is on that coast.

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Ms. Notley has called for approval of pipelines to provide the province’s beleaguered oil industry access to new markets in Asia, and said she would only support Mr. Trudeau’s carbon pricing plan if Ottawa approves pipelines.

On Trans Mountain, Mr. Trudeau faces a tough political tradeoff. His government can approve the pipeline, and win plaudits in Alberta and from Ms. Notley, who is a key ally on the prime minister’s climate change strategy. Such a move would pose political risk in B.C., where the Liberal won 17 seats in the 2015 election.

Rejection of the Kinder Morgan project would hurt Ms. Notley, who has argued her government’s ambitious carbon tax and greenhouse gas regulations are necessary to win political support for pipelines. Conservative opposition leaders in Alberta have campaigned aggressively against the NDP government’s climate change plan.

Mr. Trudeau recently visited British Columbia to announce enhanced measures for marine safety in an effort to re-assure British Columbians that his government is making major effort to prevent spills and to respond to one if it did happen.

B.C. Premier Christy Clark, who faced an election next spring, has laid out five conditions she says the pipeline company and Ottawa must meet for her to support the project, and government sources in B.C. say those conditions have been nearly met.

However, leaders from the Tsleil-Wauthuth First nations visited Mr. Carr on Monday to urge the government to reject the pipeline which they say threatens their livelihood and culture that depends on harvesting marine and land-based flora and fauna.

In the Commons on Tuesday, federal new Democractic Party Leader Thomas Mulcair noted the Liberals had promised the overhaul the environmental review process before making a decision on the Trans Mountain project but has failed to do so. He called the expected approval of the project “a betrayal” of B.C. voters.

Mr. Trudeau said he has long maintained that it is “a fundamental responsibility of any Prime Minister to get Canada’s resources to market” but that it must be done in a way the protects the environment and respects First nations’ rights.

As well, Ottawa is expected to announce decisions on Enbridge Inc.’s Line3 expansion into the United States, and then Enbridge-led Northern Gateway pipeline which would carry crude from Alberta to Kitimat, B.C. for export to Asia.

It’s uncertain whether Mr. Carr will unveil the government’s decision on  Kinder Morgan Inc.’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, which double the capacity of the line carrying crude from Edmonton to Vancouver Harbour..

Oil producers are increasingly confident that they will get additional pipeline capacity to key markets in the U.S. Midwest and Gulf Coast, where refineries are configured to process the diluted bitumen from the oil sands. But they – and Ms. Notley – are eager for access to the Pacific to take advantage of growing markets in Asia and reduce reliance on customers in the oil-rich United States.

The government is expected to approve Enbridge’s Line3 project to overhaul its aging mainline to the United States and boost capacity by 370,000 barrels per day. However, the company still requires approval in Minnesota, where the regulator has dragged out the process in the face of local opposition.

As well, U.S. President-elect Donald Trump has pledged to pave the way for TransCanada Corp.’s keystone XL pipeline, which would carry Canadian crude to the Gulf Coast. President Barack Obama rejected the Keystone pipeline last year in a highly politicized decision, and republicans in Congress – as well as Mr. Trump – are eager to reverse course.

Mr. Carr will also respond to a federal court decision that invalidated the permit – granted by the former Conservative government - to build the Northern Gateway pipeline. The court ruled the Conservatives had not adequately consulted First Nations. Mr. Carr can either revisit the consultation process or simply deny to issue a new permit, given the Liberal government’s clear opposition to a pipeline traversing the great Bear rainforest, or supertankers plying the island-dotted waters off B.C.’s northerly coast.

Northern Gateway has faced a wall of opposition from coastal First Nations but has signed up 31 indigenous communities and organizations as partners in the project, and they are demanding to be consulted before the project is killed.

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