Lawsuits Filed Over Flawed Joint Review Panel Recommendation For Northern Gateway Pipeline

By Roy L Hales

Screen shot 2014-03-18 at 3.43.47 PMFour lawsuits have been filed to block Cabinet from following the Joint Review Panel’s recommendation that the Northern Gateway Project be allowed to proceed.

Lawyers representing the Gitxaala and Haisla First Nations argued that the panel did not properly consider aboriginal rights and title, the impact this project will have upon them or public interest.

“Gitxaala were given the opportunity to speak, but were not heard,” Rosanne Kyle, their lawyer, said in a statement.

The Environmental Law Centre at the University of Victoria has filed a suit on behalf of B.C. Nature.

Three Environmental groups represented by Ecojustice –  Forest Ethics Advocacy, Living Oceans Society and the Raincoast Conservation Foundation – claim the panel’s conclusions were based on insufficient evidence and does not satisfy the environmental assessment process.

A spokesperson for Northern Gateway Pipelines emailed the Huffington Post that he was not surprised by the suits, but the panel’s “recommendations and conditions are based on science and the input of experts.”

“The panel cannot consider the so-called economic benefits of oilsands expansion tied to this pipeline but ignore the adverse impacts that expansion will have on climate change, endangered wildlife and ecosystems,” said Nikki Skuce, senior energy campaigner with ForestEthics Advocacy. “The environmental assessment process is supposed to consider both sides of the coin, and in this instance the panel failed.”

Karen Campbell, Ecojustice staff lawyer, said the panel failed to meet the legal requirements under section 79(2) of the Species at Risk Act, by not considering recovery strategies for Woodland Caribou or Humpback Whales. They actually refused to have a recovery strategy for the Whales included in the record.

“The proposed tanker route travels directly through humpback whale critical habitat identified in the recovery strategy. Yet the panel refused to consider this potential conflict when making its recommendation,” said Dr. Paul Paquet, senior scientist at Raincoast Conservation Foundation. “The federal government will be required to legally protect the humpbacks and their habitat beginning in April, so the panel’s failure to consider the project’s likely adverse impact on the whales makes no sense.”

In her application, Campbell also refers to the Panel’s flawed analysis of what might happen if there is an oil spill. The Joint Review Panel concluded that diluted bitumen, such as the tankers would carry, was unlikely to sink. Campbell claimed this conclusion was “unreasonable.” Earlier this week a Federal report confirmed Ms Campbell’s analysis, bitumen sinks. That means a spill would be more difficult to clean up than the panel imagined.

Ms Campbell said the Joint Renview Panel’s conclusions were made “without considering all the necessary and available science. This report only tells part of the story, and we are asking the court to ensure that this flawed report doesn’t stand as the final word on whether Northern Gateway is in the national interest.”

Cabinet has six months to make a decision about the Northern Gateway project, but is bound by the 209 conditions laid out in the JRP report.

Northern Gateway’s spokesperson said that he did not believe the lawsuits “will necessarily delay the review by the federal government of the (Joint Review Panel’s) report.”

(Image at top of page: ‘‘Humpback Whale”’, ”Megaptera novaeangliae”. Modified from public domain source by en:User:Jdforrester and en:User:Ed g2s, Courtesy Wikipedia)

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