(Adds Canadian government comment)
By Nia Williams
CALGARY, Alberta, Dec 20 (Reuters) - Two environmental groups on Tuesday filed for a judicial review of the Canadian government’s decision to approve Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, the first legal challenge to the project since it received the green light last month.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Cabinet on Nov. 29 approved trebling capacity on the pipeline, which ships oil sands crude from Alberta to the Port of Vancouver, British Columbia, despite fierce opposition from environmental and aboriginal groups.
Ecojustice, the law firm representing environmental groups Living Oceans Society and Raincoast Conservation Foundation, said the expanded pipeline and an increase in oil tanker traffic will be a “death knell” for a pod of endangered Southern Resident killer whales off the coast of British Columbia.
Dyna Tuytel, a lawyer for Ecojustice, said the basis for the lawsuit is that the killer whales are covered by Canada’s Species at Risk Act, meaning the government is legally required to protect them.
“The ships’ noise interferes with their ability to communicate and there is increased risk of pollution from major spills and smaller ones,” Tuytel said.
“We understand that Living Oceans Society and Raincoast Conservation Foundation have filed an application with the Federal Court of Appeal and we will be responding formally in the coming weeks,” Kinder Morgan said on Tuesday.
The Canadian government said it could not comment on the matter as it is now before the courts.
Ecojustice had filed one lawsuit on behalf of its two clients against Trans Mountain in the summer, also citing risks to the killer whales and challenging the National Energy Board’s review of the project.
Tuytel said that initial case was ongoing, but the court may hear the two lawsuits together.
There are around six other legal challenges against the NEB review of Trans Mountain ongoing, filed by municipalities and First Nations on the pipeline route. Tuytel said it was likely those groups would also launch fresh legal action against the government decision.
Opposition to crude pipelines in North America has intensified in recent months because of concerns about climate change and oil spills, with protesters blocking construction on the Dakota Access pipeline in the United States.
Trans Mountain opponents have also been encouraged by the fate of Enbridge Inc’s Northern Gateway pipeline to northern British Columbia. Approval for that pipeline from the previous Canadian government was overturned by the Federal Court of Appeal because of insufficient consultation with First Nations. (Reporting by Nia Williams; editing by Paul Simao and Leslie Adler)