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NDP MP Linda Duncan blasts government over tanker threat to endangered West Coast orcas

By Tim Naumetz      

Ms. Duncan, the NDP's environment critic and an environmental lawyer by trade, says that the federal government's approval of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline, as it stands, means that the government hasn't 'delivered on their responsibilities for a threatened species.'

The National Energy Board determined the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion would have a significant adverse effect on an endangered killer whale population off the shore of Vancouver, due to an increase in oil tanker traffic. Photograph courtesy of Christopher Michel
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Linda Duncan, the lone New Democrat MP elected in Alberta, is bucking NDP Premier Rachel Notley’s support for the federal cabinet’s approval of a new Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain oil pipeline to the B.C. coast. On Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Environment Minister Catherine McKenna approved the expansion project, which a report from the National Energy Board determined would have a significant adverse effect on an endangered killer whale population off the shore of Vancouver due to an increase in oil tanker traffic.

In approving the expansion of an existing Kinder Morgan pipeline from Edmonton and through two ranges of mountains to Burnaby, B.C. for tanker shipments abroad through the Port of Vancouver, Mr. Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) and Ms. McKenna (Ottawa Centre, Ont.) agreed with the National Energy Board’s finding that the impact on the orca population, and the related implications on local aboriginal spiritual and cultural use of the whale, is outweighed by the overall economic benefits are “in the Canadian public interest.”

But Ms. Duncan (Edmonton Strathcona, Alta.) disagrees that the matter has been given enough consideration.

“I don’t take positions for or against pipelines. I push for a proper review process that considers all the impacts,” she said, responding to a question about her position versus Ms. Notley’s enthusiastic support.

“I’ve always been an environmental lawyer, and I’m the environment critic, and that’s my perspective on this,” she said.

Ms. Duncan added that Ms. Notley, has “done the work she has to do,” but added that her own “obligation is to make sure the federal government delivers on their responsibilities and, I’m sorry, they haven’t delivered on their responsibilities for a threatened species.”

Ms. Duncan has worked as an environmental legal adviser around the world, was the chief of enforcement for Environment Canada, and also served as assistant deputy minister for renewable resources for the Yukon government.

“There’s clear evidence, clear evidence, even the NEB found significant impacts that can’t be mitigated,” Ms. Duncan said. “This isn’t just any orca, this is a subspecies, a particular pod of whales that are already at risk because their feed stock is declining—salmon—and we already had a report that one of the mothers just died and its babies nearly died.”

The adverse impact on the unique population, or pod, of about 80 orca whales was included, along with “significant” greenhouse gas emissions from oil tanker ocean and harbor traffic, in a section of the National Energy Board environmental assessment of the project, released in May 2016, which dealt with a range of adverse effects that it stated could be moderated under more mitigation measures— recommendations which were also included in its report.

“The Board found project-related marine shipping to have significant effects on the Southern resident killer whale, and on Aboriginal cultural and spiritual use of the Southern resident killer whale,” says the board report submitted to the federal Cabinet as part of a series of recommendations involving the board’s approval of the project, prior to the federal approval announced on Nov. 29.

“The Board also found that greenhouse-gas emissions from project-related marine vessels are likely to be significant,” the report said.

“In making its recommendation, the Board must focus on the overall public interest,” the report says. “On the whole, taking into account all of the evidence in this hearing, considering all relevant factors, and given there are considerable benefits nationally, regionally and, to some degree, locally, the Board finds that the benefits of this project outweigh the residual burdens.”

Mr. Trudeau and Ms. McKenna made a similar finding in its recent approval of the Pacific Northwest liquid natural gas pipeline and terminal near Kitimat, B.C., after the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency found the project was in the national public interest despite adverse effects the project would have on a local population of harbour porpoise that is also threatened.

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