I recently wrote about the drama that today’s pipeline projects seem to guarantee. This coming week wraps up the current episode in the 2021 season of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project.
You have until midnight March 1 to provide feedback on the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office’s Draft Provincial Reconsideration Report for the project, which includes the office’s proposed changes to the project’s Environmental Assessment Certificate conditions.
If you think this is your chance to lambast the Trans Mountain project, think again. Only feedback on a few aspects of the project is being sought, and only that feedback will be considered.
Those few aspects are limited to the proposed changes to project conditions related to marine shipping. These conditions were not part of the National Energy Board report originally submitted as part of the provincial environmental assessment process, but are part of the NEB’s more recent Reconsideration Report.
More specifically, comment is sought on those proposed changes that the B.C. government actually has jurisdiction over and that Trans Mountain, the project proponent, has control over. This rules out anything that falls under, for example, Transport Canada’s, the Coast Guard’s, shipping companies’ or international marine regulators’ responsibilities.
In particular, feedback is sought on the Environmental Assessment Office’s proposed amendment to one of the original 37 environmental assessment-related conditions the Trans Mountain must meet and on one proposed new condition.
The amendment would be to include “potentially affected coastal local governments” in the list of groups that Trans Mountain must consult, involve and report out to when it plans and undertakes research into the long-term effects and behaviour of bitumen in sea water or in coastal areas.
The proposed new condition would require Trans Mountain to look into and prepare a report describing the risks to human health of bitumen spills from tankers, and during response and monitoring of such spills.
The public-engagement process doesn’t consider whether the project should be built. Like it or not, that decision has already been made and has been upheld by the courts. Nor will the process consider any aspect of the pipeline, fuel-storage facilities, export facility or environmental or socioeconomic effects related to pipeline construction or operation, or anything else outside of the process scope.
So if you want to rant, this wouldn’t be the best forum. Nor will profanity, aggression or abuse help your cause.
The B.C. Environmental Assessment office will take the (relevant) feedback into account when it revises the reconsideration report and advises the B.C. cabinet ministers responsible for deciding whether to add or amend conditions to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project’s environmental assessment certificate.
This process is the result of a long, convoluted series of stops and starts. When the federal government first approved the expansion project in November 2016, legal challenges ensued. Despite that, in early 2017, the B.C. government of the time issued a provincial environmental assessment certificate for the project that was based on the NEB’s assessment, as set out in its 2016 project report.
However, in 2018, the legal challenges paid off. The Federal Court of Appeal overturned the federal approval, forcing work on the project to be suspended.
One of the reasons given for the ruling was that, in the court’s view, the NEB had unjustifiably excluded the potential impacts of project-related marine shipping from the scope of the project’s review under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. The court directed the NEB to reconsider parts of its 2016 project report and to address how the increase in tanker traffic on the coast that would result from the expanded pipeline capacity could affect the province’s marine ecosystems and species at risk, such as southern resident killer whales.
The 2019 reconsideration report was the result. Based on it, the federal government re-approved the project with 156 conditions, and the B.C. government, in turn, approved an amended environmental assessment certificate.
More legal challenges ensued, but the B.C. Court of Appeal upheld most aspects of the provincial environmental assessment process, thereby confirming that the project’s certificate is valid. However, the court concluded that the ministers of Environment and Climate Change Strategy and of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources must consider whether implications for the certificate arise from the reconsideration report.
The public comment period that opened Jan. 15 and ends March 1 is part of that consideration.