A provincial environmental assessment that could determine the fate of the proposed Enbridge pipeline isn’t out of the question, a legal expert says.
According to University of Victoria law professor Chris Tollefson, it’s one of the tools B.C. could still wield with regards to the 1,170-kilometre-long pipeline that would transport bitumen from Alberta’s tar sands to B.C.’s northwestern coast for export to Asia.
The founding executive director of UVic’s Environmental Law Centre asserted that although Enbridge’s $6-billion Northern Gateway Project falls under federal jurisdiction, B.C. isn’t exactly impotent.
“It has the ability to delay the approval and put the approval through various regulatory hoops and hurdles that would mean that, at the end of the day, it’s just not worthwhile for this proponent to proceed,” Tollefson told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.
A federal panel established by the National Energy Board and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency is in the process of evaluating the project.
In June 2010, B.C. entered into an agreement with the NEB, which provides that energy ventures subject to the federal body’s review will not require a provincial environmental assessment for approval. However, the deal also stipulates that either party can withdraw with 30 days’ notice.
Final arguments before the panel for and against the Enbridge project will begin in April 2013, a month before the May 14 provincial election. Tollefson believes that, whether the B.C. Liberals win another term or are deposed by the NDP, “there will be a lot of consideration given to exercising that right to exit the equivalency agreement”.
The pipeline will also require provincial permits and authorizations under B.C.’s land, water, and forest laws.
“The province can put conditions upon this pipeline, or even say no to parts of this pipeline that would cumulatively have the effect of ending this project,” Tollefson said.
Lawyer Josh Paterson pointed out that there’s nothing stopping the B.C. government from conducting its own environmental assessment.
According to the staff counsel with West Coast Environmental Law, such a review may be able to take up matters that the federal panel doesn’t include in its scope of evaluation. “The joint federal review panel has left out any consideration of the broader climate-change impact of producing and using the oil that would be facilitated by the Enbridge pipeline,” Paterson told the Straight in a phone interview.
The B.C. Ministry of Environment didn’t respond to a request for an interview with Minister Terry Lake.
Opposition environment critic Rob Fleming indicated that a New Democrat government might insist on a provincial environmental assessment.
“We’re looking at that specifically,” he told the Straight by phone. “And even though the B.C. Liberals signed a waiver of British Columbia’s right to conduct its own environment assessment two years ago, there is the ability to exit that agreement [with the NEB].”
According to Fleming, a team of lawyers is advising Opposition leader Adrian Dix about “all of the legal options” for stopping the Enbridge pipeline.
But a B.C. rejection might not spell the end of this project designed to deliver more Canadian oil to Asian markets. Tollefson noted that the federal government could simply up the ante: “It would be an outcome that potentially escalates stakes insofar as the federal government could potentially expropriate the land corridor.”