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Canada Notley urges Ottawa to expedite Trans Mountain with legislative fix for marine safety

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley discusses pipeline expansion with reporters in Calgary on Sept. 6, 2018.

Jeff McIntosh

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley is urging Ottawa to use legislation to expedite construction of the stalled Trans Mountain oil-pipeline expansion, fearing that a recent court ruling that quashed federal approvals for the project could prompt new regulatory hearings and lead to indefinite delays.

On Thursday, Ms. Notley met in Calgary with oil-patch leaders whom she said are worried that the multibillion-dollar pipeline expansion to Canada's West Coast will "sit on the vine" without a federal intervention that provides a clear and reliable path to restart construction.

“My concern at this point is that simply following the path laid out by the Federal Court of Appeal without some type of intervention is probably not going to be enough," she told reporters. "It will lead to too much delay. It will keep us imprisoned on this regulatory merry-go-round."

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The massive pipeline expansion has been engulfed in uncertainty since a Federal Court of Appeal ruling late last month overturned approvals. The court faulted Ottawa for inadequate consultation with First Nations and sharply criticized the National Energy Board (NEB) for not assessing impacts of added marine tanker traffic that would result from the project.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in Edmonton this week that Ottawa is studying a potential appeal to the Supreme Court, as well as a legislative response legal experts have said could effectively narrow the scope of any added review undertaken by federal regulators, while still complying with the court's decision.

Ms. Notley said on Thursday that an appeal to the country's highest court could be necessary to resolve broader issues around resource development, but it is unlikely to bring about a speedy resolution on Trans Mountain. She instead called for unspecified legislative changes that would address environmental concerns over the project, without launching a brand-new hearing process.

Major energy companies view the plan to nearly triple oil shipments between Edmonton and Vancouver's harbour as key to diversifying Canada's exports away from the United States, at a time the industry is once again facing steep price discounts as oil sands production rubs up against available pipeline capacity.

While the project's sidelining has reignited concerns about investment fleeing the energy sector, environmentalists and some First Nations opposed to the expansion cheered the federal court decision as a major victory.

The unanimous Aug. 30 ruling stressed the impact of oil-tanker traffic related to the pipeline expansion needs to be included in the environment assessment process.

The NEB found that the Trans Mountain expansion project was not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects. Had it not excluded marine traffic for its scope, however, the board would have been unable to make that recommendation to cabinet. It had concluded, though, that the increased oil-tanker traffic the project will generate is likely to result in significant adverse effects to the endangered southern resident killer whales.

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This week, federal Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson told The Globe and Mail a rehearing addressing those concerns could be handled quickly, even as environmental groups launched a lawsuit saying Ottawa's actions to protect the whales have been insufficient.

Alberta has withdrawn from the federal climate plan to spur Ottawa to act, but Ms. Notley on Thursday would not set a deadline or say what might trigger further actions from the province. She insisted the path to accommodate and consult First Nations "is not necessarily an incredibly long one" and said such groups do not hold a veto over major resource projects.

However, she could face another clash on her western front.

British Columbia's minority NDP government is still considering its next steps and is being pressed by its legislature partner, the Green Party, to hold a new provincial environmental assessment of the project.

Under the former Liberal government, British Columbia signed an equivalency agreement that required it to rely on the NEB report when it issued an environmental certificate for the expansion. After the 2017 provincial election, the new government under Premier John Horgan came out against Trans Mountain.

With a report from Justine Hunter

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