(Adds comments from federal government)
By Allison Lampert
MONTREAL, Jan 21 (Reuters) - The influential mayor of Montreal and leaders representing 81 nearby municipalities said on Thursday they oppose TransCanada Corp’s proposed Energy East pipeline because of environmental and economic concerns.
Energy East, which would take up to 1.1 million barrels of oil per day from Alberta and Saskatchewan to Canada’s east coast, faces increasing problems as environmental and aboriginal groups ramp up protests.
TransCanada and Alberta’s landlocked oil sands industry are looking to it to reach international markets after President Barack Obama rejected TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline project to the United States last year.
Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, a former federal Liberal cabinet minister, told a press conference he would oppose it at hearings by provincial and national energy boards over concerns the route could endanger forest and agricultural land.
Coderre later told Reuters the project generates inadequate economic spinoffs and creates environmental risks for the Greater Montreal region, which has about four million people and accounts for half of Quebec’s economy.
Local opponents may carry moral and public clout but they cannot block the project. The Canadian government will make the final decision based on recommendations from the National Energy Board.
Micheline Joanisse, a spokeswoman for Federal Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr, said any new infrastructure would have to be developed in an environmentally sustainable manner.
“We are committed to restoring credibility to environmental assessments and the NEB; ensuring decisions are based on science, facts and evidence and work in partnership ... with indigenous peoples,” she wrote in an email.
“Facing growing opposition, TransCanada’s Energy East project appears to be dead in the water, even before the regulatory review has started,” Adam Scott, a spokesman with Environmental Defence, said in a statement.
A TransCanada spokesman said the Calgary-based company is expecting hearings this year and a final NEB report in 2017, although those dates are not definitive.
In December, TransCanada filed an amended application to remove an export terminal in Quebec, one of two planned for the project, over environmentalists’ opposition.
Tim Duboyce, a spokesman for Energy East, said by phone from Calgary that TransCanada officials would be willing to meet with Coderre and seek feedback over safety and environmental concerns during future consultations, including one planned in Quebec.
He said the main pipeline does not cross into the territory of Montreal but one interconnection line attaches to a refinery operated by Suncor Energy on the eastern end of Montreal Island. (Additional reporting by Nia Williams in Calgary and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Paul Simao and James Dalgleish)