Ecojustice Case – Climate change Case Status: Victory

Challenging Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline

Barry RobinsonBarry RobinsonLawyer
Karen CampbellLawyer
Living Oceans SocietyClient
Raincoast Conservation FoundationClient
Oil tanker
Photo by Nightman1965 via Shutterstock

Ecojustice lawyers represented ForestEthics Advocacy, Living Oceans Society and Raincoast Conservation Foundation, in legal challenges of the federal Cabinet’s approval of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline.  With our help, our clients took part in the 18-month review of the Northern Gateway proposal, after which the National Energy Board recommended that Cabinet approve the project contingent upon the company fulfilling 209 conditions.  In June, 2014 Cabinet accepted that recommendation and approved the project.

Our clients argue that the environmental assessment in this case did not consider all the necessary and available science. They allege that the review panel report erred by (among other things):

  • failing to comply with the Species at Risk Act;
  • considering irrelevant evidence;
  • failing to balance Northern Gateway’s economic benefits and environment impacts; and
  • determining, despite a lack of evidence, that the project is unlikely to result in significant adverse environment impacts as a result of a diluted bitumen spill.

In October 2015, we appeared — alongside First Nations, environmental groups, and organized labour — before the Federal Court of Appeal to make the case for why the federal government’s approval of Enbridge’s controversial pipeline should be revoked.  In June 2016, the Court issued a strong ruling that overturns the government’s approval of the project. (Gitxaala Nation v. Canada, 2016 FCA 187.)

Why did Ecojustice get involved?

Environmental assessments need to be carried out to the highest possible standard. This is especially the case for projects where the environmental impacts of an accident could be ecologically devastating.  Pipelines, no matter how safe, are never foolproof.  Since 2012, Alberta alone has experienced a flurry of high-profile spills and accidents from oil and gas operations and the harm to ecosystems, species, and human health cannot be easily undone. That is why we are supporting our clients to ensure that the best possible evidence is meaningfully considered before the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline can proceed.

We also support efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across Canada and believe that it is important to be involved in cases related to projects that will accelerate demand for tar sands development.

What does this victory mean?

The decision is a cause for celebration, and effectively shuts the door on Enbridge’s pipeline.

However, upon review of the Court’s reasons for its decision, it becomes clear that this legal victory is limited, and does not address the fundamental issues on environmental assessment or consultation processes. The Court’s abrupt dismissal of the arguments based on the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act is especially problematic.

Perhaps the most significant result of the Enbridge victory is that it lays bare the desperate need for fundamental reform to Canada’s environmental assessment laws to support the long-term interests of all Canadians, rather than the short-term goals of extractive industries.

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