The fate of endangered southern resident killer whales won’t stop the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

The National Energy Board (NEB) is once again recommending the controversial project move forward.

“The Trans Mountain expansion project is in the public interest and should be approved,” says NEB chief environment officer Robert Steedman.

This, despite the fact the NEB found project-related marine shipping is “likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects on Southern resident killer whales” and a “significant impact” on greenhouse gas emissions.

“The NEB recommends that the government find that they can be justified in the circumstances in light of the considerable benefit of the project,” Steedman says.

But reaction was swift from environmentalists and First Nations leaders.

“The Trudeau government has said very clearly this pipeline will be built and similar to the SNC Lavalin affair, in this country jobs are more important than justice,” says Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs.

“They’re prepared to say that extinction, the violation of human rights of indigenous peoples, the destruction of our coastline  — that’s not as valuable as the economic benefits which were never studied by the National Energy Board,” adds Green Party leader and Saanich-Gulf Islands MP Elizabeth May.

An intervener since the beginning, May says there’s no economic case for the expansion now that energy prices have plummeted.

“The evidence is not only lacking, there is none for economic benefits to outweigh what they studied and found to be devastating consequences,” says May.

Friday’s announcement is part of a reconsideration process ordered by the Federal Court of Appeal, which ruled Ottawa didn’t adequately consult with First Nations or properly consider the marine environment.

There are 16 new recommendations to offset increased underwater noise, ship strikes, and the chance of a catastrophic spill.

But with only 74 resident orcas left, those against the pipeline are vowing to stop it.

“This pipeline, as I’ve said on many many occasions, will never see the light of day,” Grand Chief Phillip vows.

The Trudeau government has 90 days to finish ‘meaningful consultations’ with First Nations.

It will then be up to the federal cabinet to make a final decision.

But pipeline opponents say the legal challenges are far from over.

Read the National Energy Board reconsideration report here.

 

Tess van Straaten