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Alberta lawyer says Trans Mountain approval based on sufficient evidence

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These translations are done via Google Translate

VANCOUVER — Ottawa's decision to approve the Trans Mountain pipeline was made on a broad base of evidence, a lawyer for Alberta's attorney general has told the Federal Court of Appeal.

Doreen Mueller said the governor in council considered economic, environmental, cultural and Indigenous interests in giving the $7.4-billion project its go-ahead last November.

Mueller was allotted 30 minutes to address a panel of three judges Friday but spoke for less than two minutes, saying Alberta's position was stated in written submissions already forwarded to the court.

The ultimate decision on approval of the project lays with the governor in council, the court document says.

"It is not this court's function to reassess and reweigh the evidence to reach its own public interest determination in respect of the project. Under the applicable statutory scheme, only the governor in council determines whether the project is in the public interest."

Alberta is an intervener in judicial reviews launched by several B.C. First Nations, two environmental groups and the cities of Vancouver and Burnaby.

The case combines nearly two dozen lawsuits calling for the National Energy Board's review of the project to be overturned.

The board, Trans Mountain and the federal government have defended the project as viable during two weeks of hearings that were expected to conclude Friday. 

British Columbia is also an intervener, and the province's lawyer Thomas Berger has argued the governor in council breached its duty by not providing reasons for its decision when it determined the project would unlikely to cause significant adverse environmental effects.

The project would increase tanker traffic in the waters off Vancouver seven-fold and Berger told the panel last week that B.C. would bear the environmental risk in the event of a marine spill of diluted bitumen.

Alberta has maintained that pipelines remain the safest and most economical way to move oil and gas to market and that twinning of an existing pipeline from the Edmonton area to Burnaby, B.C., is vital to the province's economy.

The project would allow Alberta to react quickly to market conditions and move crude supplies to higher-priced markets as supply and demand change, a document filed with the Federal Court of Appeal says.

"Currently, Canadian oil is exported almost exclusively to fully-served or difficult-to-access markets in the United States resulting in significant discounting of Canada's crude oil resources. This is having an impact on the entire country's economy."

First Nations, including the Squamish Nation and the Musqueam Indian Band, have said the federal government did not adequately consult them, though lawyers for Ottawa told the hearing that extensive consultations were conducted.

British Columbia's former Liberal government under premier Christy Clark supported the project, saying it would provide jobs and that Kinder Morgan had met five conditions including a revenue-sharing agreement worth $1 billion.

However, the minority NDP government that came into power earlier this year has vowed to block the expansion. 

Kinder Morgan Canada subsidiary Trans Mountain has proposed expansion of the Westridge Marine Terminal in Burnaby, a new dock complex with three berths and a utility dock along with nearly tripling the capacity of the pipeline to 890,000 barrels of oil per day.

Trans Mountain said construction on the project was to begin last month, but many of the eight environmental management plans required by the province had not yet been accepted.

— Follow @CamilleBains1 on Twitter.

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press

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