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BC's Enbridge Northern Gateway rejection a victory for environmental community

Ecojustice's Barry Robinson isn't breaking out champagne bottles just yet.

"I've seen some response already that the Enbridge Northern Gateway project is over, because the province has turned it down.  The project's not dead," he said.  "The cabinet and the federal government will ultimately decide."

But the province is now echoing what the environmental community has been saying for years, that Enbridge can neither prevent nor deal with an oil spill along the BC coast. 

"From the environmental community's point of view, it's a very important and positive step," Robinson said. "I hope it's not a bargaining chip.  I hope it really is the province's position."

A political decision on Enbridge Northern Gateway

Premier Christy Clark's office told The Vancouver Observer earlier this week that "there is no way any pipeline would go forward federally without the support of the British Columbia."

While this may not be legally the case, any attempts to force an unwanted pipeline through BC would be "pushing the envelope", Dogwood Initiative executive director Will Horter said. 

He thinks approving Northern Gateway was politically impossible for her, given her future plans for LNG, the province's most important project.

"If she (Clark) had said yes, the backlash from northern communities would have totally derailed her LNG projects," he said. "And despite what the eastern pundits say, this is not a left-right divide -- people from all walks of life are opposed to this pipeline."

As for whether Enbridge might work out a covert agreement with the BC government to have the pipeline approved, Horter believes that would be extremely unlikely. 

"There's always the risk, but a backroom deal has consequences," he said.

"It would smell like another HST. And what kind of signal does that send to people about Kinder Morgan? Why bother participating, to sit down and bring all your best arguments? It will all be irrelevant if there was some secret deal after the fact."

Chief Martin Louie of the Nadleh Whut’en First Nation expressed strong caution, saying he wouldn't be relieved until the final presentation to the JRP is made, and that he is preparing to take strong action to stop the Enbridge pipeline.

"If we have to take it to court, that's what we're going to do," he said. But he did not categorically rule out the possibility of a pipeline, saying the First Nations communities do require more economic activity.

"I dont' think there's consent (among First Nations to Northern Gateway) right now. But, we need to make money too. If we can come to an agreement, then we can talk nation-to-nation." 

"I think it's great news in principle - even if Harper will ultimately approve it, what it illustrates is a government that traditionally would support a project like this has finally listened to the concerns of the majority of people in BC," said Lee Brain, the son of an oil executive who gave a stirring presentation about oil at the Enbridge Northern Gateway hearing in Prince Rupert.

"I think the important thing here is to witness the evolution of public discourse around the topics of fossil fuels and energy infrastructure, and that corporations cannot continue to dictate to people how and when our resources are going to be used."

"I believe we are entering into the era of accountability and I think it's a major step forward regardless of the end result. If Harper does approve it in the end, then it is my belief that Canada will most likely witness the largest display of civil unrest in our entire history as a nation."

Enbridge willing to work to meet requirements

Pipeline proponents, meanwhile, say that Enbridge will find a way to work with BC to meet the conditions for Northern Gateway to be approved. 

"As you know, oil pipeline proponents to the West Coast have publicly stated that they are willing to work with the Province of BC to meet its five conditions," Canadian Energy Pipeline Association spokesperson Sandra Burns wrote in an email after declining to speak on the phone.  

"We expect that those proponents, including Enbridge, will continue to do so."

When asked about the fact that some Northern Gateway opponents are primarily opposed to bitumen and would be in favour of refined oil being exported, Burns referred to a report by CEPA, saying that "pipelines transporting diluted bitumen is not at any more risk of corrosion than pipelines carrying conventional crude oil."

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