Environmental groups file court challenge over Joint Review Panel report on Enbridge pipeline

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      Environmental organizations have launched a court challenge of the Joint Review Panel report that recommended conditional approval of Enbridge's Northern Gateway oil pipeline.

      ForestEthics Advocacy, Living Oceans Society, and Raincoast Conservation Foundation, represented by lawyers at Ecojustice, filed today (January 17) the lawsuit in the Federal Court of Appeal. Their notice of application names the attorney general, environment minister, National Energy Board, and Northern Gateway Pipelines Limited Partnership as respondents.

      Karen Campbell, staff lawyer at Ecojustice, told the Georgia Straight that if their case is successful, the court will require the panel to "remedy the deficiencies" in its report before the federal government can make any decision on the $7.9-billion project.

      "We think that all of the grounds that we put forward are very strong grounds," Campbell said by phone. "We're concerned that they did not consider the requirements of the Species at Risk Act. And we're concerned about some of the errors and the flaws in the panel's reasoning with respect to dilbit [diluted bitumen] and with respect to geohazards—the risk of landslides along the pipeline route—and the fact that the panel considered the upstream benefits of the project, but it did not consider the upstream environmental impact of the project."

      The Northern Gateway project would see twin pipelines carry 525,000 barrels of diluted bitumen and 193,000 barrels of condensate per day between Bruderheim, Alberta, and Kitimat, B.C., where the oil would be loaded onto 220 tankers per year.

      On December 19, the panel issued its decision, setting out 209 conditions for the project.

      "We have concluded that the project would be in the public interest," the panel's report states. "We find that the project's potential benefits for Canada and Canadians outweigh the potential burdens and risks."

      The environmental groups' lawsuit seeks court orders declaring that the panel erred in law and jurisdiction, and that its report is "invalid and unlawful" because it didn't comply with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, National Energy Board Act, and Species at Risk Act. It also asks that the federal cabinet be prohibited from making a decision on the project until these laws are complied with.

      Karen Wristen, executive director of Living Oceans Society, told the Straight that it's possible the court case will delay the federal government's decision on the project.

      "Most of the complaints we've made would require the panel itself to simply provide more reasons," Wristen said by phone. "Some of them though, for example the geohazards issue—there's no evidence at all before the panel on the geohazards. If they were to be required to give further elaboration on that point, they might have to go back to Enbridge and say, 'Let's get some evidence here about what the actual geohazards are that this pipeline will face.' Which we argue they should have done in the first place. The application was never complete."