A small but significant regulatory advance for Kinder Morgan Inc. Thursday was dwarfed by the political fallout from the company’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, as Alberta and its allies kept up their attack on the British Columbia government, climate hawks demanded scientific proof that the project is safe, and John Horgan’s NDP raised concerns it was backing away from the fight with the phrasing and sequencing of its first-ever Speech from the Throne.
The regulatory decision was released late in the afternoon B.C. time, with the National Energy Board announcing that Kinder “may start work on the Burnaby Mountain tunnel entrance of the project and approv[ing] the pipeline’s path where the tunnel will be built,” the Seeking Alpha investors’ blog reports. “Construction is not yet authorized along the rest of the pipeline’s route; the NEB has approved only about half of the total route.”
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Burnaby Now reports the Houston-based pipeliner had set a February 15 deadline for an NEB decision on an application it had originally denied last August, and that included relief from some regulatory conditions attached to construction. “Kinder Morgan said it needs between four to six weeks to clear trees and grade the Westridge site, and that work needs to take place before migratory bird restrictions come into effect on March 26,” the local paper notes. “If crews don’t meet that window, clearing the site would be delayed until August.”
Burnaby lawyer Greg McDade said he wasn’t surprised by the decision. “It continues a long trend of NEB decisions…What Trans Mountain asks for, Trans Mountain gets,” he said. “Burnaby’s frustrated by the continuing refusal of the NEB to really take municipal concerns into account,” and its tendency “to put the pipeline company’s interests on a higher plane, as if the federal government gets to override the people who actually have to live with the result.”
But the tone was decidedly different in Alberta earlier in the week when Premier Rachel Notley released her government’s Keep Canada Working website. “This fight, it isn’t something any one government can do alone,” she said. “We need all of us working together to make sure the B.C. government fully understands why this pipeline matters, why good jobs matter, and why the rules of our country matter.”
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi weighed in on the pipeline’s behalf during a visit to Pyeongchang, South Korea as an Olympic observer. “We understand that across the world there is a real need and desire for safe, clean energy from Alberta in order to meet people’s energy needs, in order to fight poverty, in order to manage the transition to a lower-carbon economy,” he said. “It’s really helpful to get out of our parochial arguments and understand what’s really at stake here.”
Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid picked up on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s “remarkable” accusation that Horgan has set out to wreck the pan-Canadian climate change plan. And news coverage suggested the federal decision in a regulatory dispute over natural gas pipeline fees, as well as a delayed child care funding announcement for B.C., could be payback for the province’s action on Kinder Morgan—even though all governments involved denied the connection.
While Notley’s website promoted Alberta’s view of the dispute, 350.org was out this week with a site of its own, demanding that Trudeau release the science to prove “that Kinder Morgan is spill-proof, climate-safe, and compatible with Indigenous rights.” It sets a March 5 deadline for Trudeau to “show your work on Kinder Morgan.”
The site argues that the pipeline carries an 87% risk of a Pacific Ocean oil spill, runs counter to Canada’s commitments under the Paris agreement, violates the country’s promises to Indigenous peoples—and that the government has failed to release any evidence to the contrary.
In the midst of it all, the B.C. government released its first Throne Speech earlier this week. “Not until the last few paragraphs of the throne speech did the NDP government get around to mentioning its intentions regarding the increased transport of Alberta heavy oil through this province,” writes Vancouver Sun columnist Vaughn Palmer.
“The government is considering new protections that would improve our ability to prepare for and respond to bitumen spills,” the speech stated. “Government will consult with industry, local government, the public and First Nations on the path forward.”
Palmer contrasts that statement of the government’s legislative intentions with Environment Minister George Heyman’s January 30 announcement that he would place regulatory restrictions on increased diluted bitumen transport while an independent science panel reviews the matter.
“It is our intention to lower the temperature so that we can have a more reasonable discussion,” Horgan said during a news conference following the Throne Speech reading, and “it’s never been my intention” to restrict shipments while consultations are under way.
In its response to the speech, the Pembina Institute urges B.C. to take “decisive action” against carbon pollution.
“We’re pleased by the government’s resolve to protect jobs and economic competitiveness as it strengthens B.C.’s carbon tax,” said Acting B.C. Director Karen Tam Wu, who also sits on B.C.’s Climate Solutions and Clean Growth Advisory Council. “We look forward to seeing the government’s roadmap to meeting B.C.’s climate targets for 2030 and 2050.”