Challenging the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion

Raincoast Conservation Foundation et a.l v. Attorney General of Canada et al.
Photo: © Zack Embree
Program area – Nature Status: Closed
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The Trans Mountain pipeline project and associated tanker traffic pose a significant threat to the future of endangered Southern Resident killer whales.

Despite this, Canada’s National Energy Board (NEB) concluded in May 2016 that the project’s benefits (all economic) outweighed the burdens (mostly environmental). One month later, Ecojustice lawyers filed litigation challenging the lawfulness of the NEB’s report.

Then, in November of that same year, cabinet officially approved the controversial pipeline project. In response, Ecojustice lawyers applied to the court for leave for a judicial review of the approval. The groups argued that cabinet broke the law when it relied on the NEB’s report that used an overly narrow interpretation of the law to avoid addressing harm to endangered Southern Resident killer whales and their critical habitat.

Ecojustice lawyers, on behalf of Raincoast Conservation Foundation and Living Oceans Society, appeared in court in October 2017, to argue against the project as part of a landmark, two-week hearing at the Federal Court of Appeal (Tsleil-Wauthuth Nation et al. v. Attorney General of Canada, et al., 2018 FCA 153).

The court heard multiple cases at the time, including those from the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, Squamish Nation, Coldwater Indian Band, Upper Nicola Band, Stk’emlupsemc Te Secwepemc Nation, Sto:lo applicants. The City of Burnaby and City of Vancouver also challenged the project in court, and the government of British Columbia intervened in the hearing.

Despite strong scientific evidence on impacts on the Southern Residents, widespread public opposition and multiple legal challenges, the Canadian government announced the following May that it would purchase the existing pipeline and planned expansion from Texas-based company Kinder Morgan for $4.5 billion.

Then, on Aug. 30, 2018, the Federal Court of Appeal handed Ecojustice’s clients and the First Nations applicants’ a major victory. The court found that the government’s approval of the project was void because it did not comply with Canadian law, including the responsibility to protect endangered Southern Resident killer whales. It also found the government had failed to properly consult with Indigenous Peoples.

On Oct. 3, 2018, the Canadian government announced that it would not appeal the decision.

The Trans Mountain pipeline project threatens endangered Southern Resident killer whales, the climate, and coastal ecosystems and Canadians. The proposed expansion would carry 890,000 barrels of oil per day from Edmonton to the Westridge Terminal in Burnaby. The oil would then be shipped by tanker through the Salish Sea and on to American and overseas markets.

If built, the expansion would lead to seven times more tanker traffic crossing the Salish Sea, critical habitat for the Southern Residents. This raises the risk of tanker strikes, which could be deadly to whales, or a catastrophic oil spill.

Even if neither of those scenarios play out, the increase in tankers will mean more underwater noise when current levels already severely impact the whales’ ability to navigate, hunt and communicate with each other.

The federal government has a legal responsibility to help at-risk species, such as the Southern Resident killer whales, survive and recover. And Ecojustice is committed to continuing to use the power of the law to hold it to account.

While we have reached the end of the road in this particular case, Ecojustice and its allies continue to call on the government to introduce enforceable, legally-binding protections for the whales such as mandatory — instead of voluntary — vessel slow-downs and a measurable underwater noise reduction target.

If we want the Southern Resident killer whales to survive for generations to come, we have no choice but to continue pushing for better protections.

The Southern Residents already face imminent threats to their survival, including:

  • A lack of Chinook salmon, the whales’ preferred prey
  • Acoustic and physical disturbance from vessel traffic
  • And contamination of the ecosystems where they live

At this rate, the declining population cannot handle these existing threats — much less additional hazards posed by the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

Without immediate, decisive, and effective action, we risk losing Southern Resident killer whales altogether.

Key developments

Blog

What the end of Ecojustice’s Trans Mountain case means for endangered killer whales

Lawyer Dyna Tuytel reflects on what the end to Ecojustice’s legal fight to protect Southern Resident killer whales from Trans Mountain wil...

March 19, 2020

Press release

Supreme Court of Canada refuses to hear Trans Mountain case, conservation groups react

VANCOUVER – The Supreme Court of Canada announced today that it will not hear a set of legal challenges to the federal government’s re-a...

March 5, 2020

Press release

Conservation groups appeal to Supreme Court in Trans Mountain suit

OTTAWA — Ecojustice, acting on behalf of Raincoast Conservation Foundation and Living Oceans Society, is taking the fight to defend endang...

November 5, 2019

Blog

Taking our Trans Mountain fight to the Supreme Court

It’s official. Ecojustice is taking the fight to defend endangered Southern Resident killer whales from the Trans Mountain project all the...

November 5, 2019

Blog

Trans Mountain timeline: A look back at Ecojustice’s fight against the pipeline project

This multimedia Trans Mountain timeline traces the history of Ecojustice’s fight to defend endangered Southern Resident killer whales from...

October 30, 2019

Blog

What’s next in the Trans Mountain fight

Earlier today, the Federal Court of Appeal issued a disappointing decision, declining to hear Ecojustice’s most recent challenge of the Tr...

September 4, 2019

Press release

Statement: Conservation groups respond to Federal Court of Appeal decision on Trans Mountain

VANCOUVER – The Federal Court of Appeal ruled today that it will not proceed with hearing a case Ecojustice brought on behalf of Raincoast...

September 4, 2019

Blog

Southern Resident deaths show whales can’t handle existing conditions — much less new TMX threats

Earlier this week, we received devastating news about the Southern Resident killer whales. The Center for Whale Research declared three w...

August 8, 2019

Press release

Conservation groups launch new case challenging Trans Mountain Pipeline

VANCOUVER – Ecojustice is going back to court on behalf of Living Oceans Society and Raincoast Conservation Foundation to challenge the fe...

July 8, 2019

Blog

Back in court to fight Trans Mountain

It’s official. Round two of the legal fight to stop the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion has begun. Earlier today, Ecojustice lawyers ...

July 8, 2019

Blog

Building a future where the climate is safe and whales are abundant

I have some of the world’s most magnificent neighbours — but lately, I haven’t seen them around. Ever since I moved to Pender Islan...

July 4, 2019

Press release

Trans Mountain approval wrong choice for endangered killer whales and climate

VANCOUVER – The federal government’s decision to approve the Trans Mountain pipeline project is the wrong choice for endangered killer w...

June 18, 2019

Blog

Cynicism at play in Trans Mountain approval

Less than 24 hours after declaring a national climate emergency, the federal government has re-approved the Trans Mountain expansion — a p...

June 18, 2019

Press release

Cabinet must reject NEB recommendation, shut door on Trans Mountain project: Ecojustice

VANCOUVER – The National Energy Board (NEB) recommended today that Cabinet approve the Trans Mountain pipeline project, following a review...

February 22, 2019

Blog

What happens next: The Trans Mountain legal saga is over, but the fight continues

The Trans Mountain legal saga is over. The Canadian government announced on Wednesday that it will not appeal a landmark Federal Court of...

October 4, 2018

Press release

STATEMENT: Major victory confirmed – feds will not appeal Trans Mountain ruling

VANCOUVER – Dyna Tuytel, Ecojustice lawyer, made the following statement in response to the federal government’s announcement that it wi...

October 3, 2018

Blog

VICTORY: We’ve defeated Trans Mountain

We did it. Together. Just moments ago, the Federal Court of Appeal struck down the federal government’s approval of the Trans Mountain ...

August 30, 2018

Press release

‘A critical win’ – Ecojustice, Living Oceans Society, Raincoast Conservation Foundation celebrate Trans Mountain ruling

VANCOUVER – Ecojustice, Living Oceans Society and Raincoast Conservation Foundation — conservation groups who fought the approval of the...

August 30, 2018

Blog

Why the feds’ $4.5 billion pipeline gamble is a bad bet

Today’s announcement that the federal government will spend $4.5 billion in taxpayer dollars to buy Kinder Morgan’s troubled Trans Mount...

May 29, 2018

Press release

Statement: Government announces $4.5B Trans Mountain pipeline purchase, Ecojustice reacts

VANCOUVER – Ecojustice lawyer Dyna Tuytel issued the following statement regarding Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s announcement that the...

May 29, 2018

Blog

Inside and outside the courts, Indigenous peoples are leading the charge against Kinder Morgan

Guided by leaders such as Tsleil-Waututh Sundance Chief Rueben George, Indigenous peoples and their allies are at the forefront of the fight...

April 12, 2018

Blog

Kinder Morgan update: We rest our case

It’s been a hard-fought couple of weeks, but the Kinder Morgan pipeline hearing has finally come to a close. The longest Federal Court of...

October 13, 2017

Press release

Killer whales v. Kinder Morgan in court tomorrow

Government cannot avoid legal responsibilities to protect endangered species, conservation groups say VANCOUVER — Conservation groups w...

October 3, 2017

Blog

Frequently asked questions about our fight against Kinder Morgan

We answer your questions on why we took this case on, and what makes it important The Kinder Morgan project approval has been coming down...

January 3, 2017

Blog

We’re going to court to stop Kinder Morgan

We’ve just filed for a judicial review of Cabinet’s approval of the Kinder Morgan pipeline project. Two weeks ago, the federal govern...

December 20, 2016

Press release

Federal approval of Kinder Morgan pipeline project unlawful

VANCOUVER – Environmental groups launched a lawsuit today that challenges the federal Cabinet’s approval of Kinder Morgan’s pipeline p...

December 20, 2016

Press release

Environmental groups launch court challenge over NEB’s Kinder Morgan report

Kinder Morgan recommendation puts one of Canada’s most iconic endangered species, the Southern Resident killer whale, at risk of harm V...

June 17, 2016

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