Northern Gateway pipeline's next battle is in the courts

Enbridge's next stage of the pipeline project won't involve surveying mountain passes and trudging B.C.'s forests with huge lengths of steel pipe. Instead, the company will be reviewing mountains of legal briefs and trekking through the Canadian judicial system.

5 cases pending over National Energy Board's decision and more to come

Jacqueline Lee-Tam wears face paint to simulate oil while attending a rally held to show opposition to the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline in Vancouver on Tuesday. The federal government is giving a conditional green light to Enbridge Inc.'s controversial $7-billion Northern Gateway pipeline project between the Alberta oilsands and the B.C. coast. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

A long slog is over for the folks at Enbridge. The verdict from the federal cabinet is finally in and it's a go for the Northern Gateway pipeline project.

Let the next slog begin.

Sadly for the energy-delivery giant, it won't involve surveying mountain passes and trudging B.C.'s forests with huge lengths of steel pipe. Instead, the company will be reviewing mountains of legal briefs and trekking through the Canadian judicial system.

"This fight here in British Columbia is transitioning from the fundamentally flawed Joint Review Panel process into the courts," said Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs Grand Chief Stewart Phillip. 

There are already five lawsuits challenging the findings of the joint National Energy Board and Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency body that looked into the feasibility of the project.

Traditional drummers from B.C. coastal First Nations perform at Kitamaat Village, B.C., in May 2010. First Nations are gearing up to take the National Energy Board to court after the federal cabinet approved the NEB's decision to allow Enbridge's Northern Gateway pipeline project to proceed. (Robin Rowland/Canadian Press)

Two of those cases were launched by environmental groups that allege scientific and legal errors made in the decision.

"If these legal challenges are successful, then they will in effect overturn the entire process and it would have to start again," said Tzeporah Berman of Forest Ethics Advocacy, a group involved in one of the lawsuits. And, in the meantime, she warns, the Federal Court of Appeal could put a moratorium on the Northern Gateway project, essentially delaying it.

The other three cases were brought by B.C. First Nations that didn't feel adequately consulted. And they are the ones that worry Ottawa the most.

Decision 'unequivocally' rejected

Today a coalition of B.C.-based bands and native organizations "unequivocally" rejected Ottawa's decision to approve the pipeline. 

"This project, and the federal process to approve it, violated our rights and our laws. We are uniting to defend our lands and waters of our respective territories. Our rights and laws compel us to act," the group wrote in a release that was circulated soon after the government made its decision public.

The coalition added that it will "vigorously pursue all lawful means to stop the Enbridge project."

So if the five existing court actions aren't enough, Phillip says there are another seven lawsuits waiting to launch.

"We are looking forward to protracted litigation. But let's be clear. The light is brilliantly red here in British Columbia," he said. 

Ottawa points to Enbridge

And where are the federal Tories in all of this? Well, they didn't send anyone out to speak yesterday. There was just a paper statement from Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford. 

Rickford made a big deal of the 209 conditions attached to the NEB's final decision, many of which required "consultations with aboriginal communities." He also made sure to point out that this was Enbridge's responsibility. 

"The proponent clearly has more work to do in order to fulfil the public commitment it has made to engage with aboriginal groups and local communities along the route," Rickford was quoted as saying in the government release. 

Regardless of whether responsibility lies with the NEB, the Conservative government in Ottawa or Enbridge, opponents of the project, such as Grand Chief Phillip, know what comes next.

"We will fight the Enbridge Northern Gateway in the courts. We will fight the Enbridge pipeline proposal on the land, on the waters. And we will stand proudly with like-minded British Columbians and stop this project from moving ahead."

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