The Trans Mountain pipeline project will accelerate climate change and push endangered Southern Resident killer whales towards extinction.

That’s why, on behalf of our clients, Ecojustice went to court in 2017 to fight the government’s approval of the project. We won, and the victory overturned the project approval, forced the National Energy Board to re-evaluate the project’s marine shipping impacts, and halted construction on the expansion.

But in June 2019, the government re-approved the Trans Mountain project.

The stakes are greater than ever. So Ecojustice is going back to court for round two.

Ecojustice lawyers filed a motion with the Federal Court of Appeal in July 2019, seeking leave to challenge Cabinet’s decision to re-approve the Trans Mountain project.

If the court grants us permission, we’ll be going back to court on behalf of Raincoast Conservation Foundation and Living Oceans Society. There, we’ll argue that the government failed to comply with its responsibility to protect critically endangered Southern Resident killer whales under the Species at Risk Act when it re-approved the project.

If built, the Trans Mountain expansion would lead to seven times more tanker traffic crossing the Salish Sea, critical habitat for the Southern Residents. This raises the risk of tanker strikes, which could be deadly to whales, or a catastrophic oil spill.

Even if neither of those scenarios play out, the increase in tankers will mean more underwater noise when current levels already severely impact the whales’ ability to navigate, hunt and communicate with each other.

Southern Residents are already unable to handle existing threats to their survival. The government itself says endangered Southern Resident killer whales face imminent threats under their current conditions. Meanwhile, the National Energy Board found that the tanker traffic associated with Trans Mountain would lead to “significant” additional threats to the whales.

With this in mind, our lawsuit charts new territory in the legal fight to protect endangered species. For the first time ever, Ecojustice lawyers will be arguing that the government cannot justify approving a project when it will result in species extinction.

Why did Ecojustice get involved?

Beyond its immediate impacts on the Southern Resident killer whales, Ecojustice remains concerned about the threat Trans Mountain poses to our collective climate future.

Environment and Climate Change Canada estimates project-related tankers alone would create 76,200 tonnes of CO2 emissions per year — the equivalent of adding 16,178 passenger vehicles to the road each year. And this doesn’t even take into account the oil sands emissions associated with the project, or the carbon footprint from burning the oil on the other end.

The fact is that any increase in emissions is too much at a time when the science says we need to be dramatically reducing our carbon footprint to avoid climate breakdown.

We are in a climate emergency and we simply can’t afford to build a project that will increase emissions and lock us into fossil fuel production for decades to come.

What would a win mean?

The government must follow the law.

It has a responsibility under the Species at Risk Act to help at-risk species survive and recover. This means it cannot approve a project that will push species or endangered populations to extinction — regardless of the project’s perceived benefits.

In other words, no political or perceived money-making gains can outweigh the level of harm this project would cause the Southern Resident killer whales.

A win in this case would see the courts strike down the federal government’s project approval for the second time.