Aboriginals, environmentalists rally outside Trans Mountain hearings in B.C.

BURNABY, B.C. -- National Energy Board hearings on the proposed Trans Mountain pipeline expansion are underway in the Vancouver area today, despite calls from local politicians and protesters to halt the controversial review.

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First Nations, environmental groups and municipalities are set to make their presentations on Kinder Morgan's contentious US$5.4 billion plan to triple the current capacity of the Alberta-to-B.C. pipeline.

The hearings began Tuesday morning and will continue over the next 10 days in Burnaby, B.C., before wrapping in Calgary next month.

City of Surrey lawyer Anthony Capuccinello opened arguments by reiterating the city's firm opposition to the expansion. The city, about 45 kilometres east of Vancouver, is asking the board to require Kinder Morgan to decommission and remove the portion of the current pipeline that runs through Surrey as a condition of any approval it grants.

"You have heard, through the submissions and argument of Trans Mountain, a story -- a story applauding the expertise of the board's advisors, a story full of self-serving statements expressing how fair this process has been," Capuccinello told the three-member panel.

"Sadly, that story is a fiction. The City of Surrey's submissions and argument are based on facts -- facts supported in evidence and facts supported by law."

Capuccinello blasted the energy board's advisors for "falling asleep at the wheel," saying their lack of expertise is clear from the draft conditions the board submitted for comment. He also expressed concerns about the abilities of municipalities to cover expenses and be reimbursed for any additional costs they incur as a result of the expansion.

The project has been contentious in part because the energy board streamlined the review process to meet time limits set by the previous Conservative government. Interveners did not have the opportunity to cross-examine Kinder Morgan representatives and instead were required to send in written questions, of which the company answered only a portion.

Protesters have planned a rally outside the hearing to call on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to stop the review and implement promised changes to the process.

Trudeau promised on the campaign trail in June to engage in a "new open process" for all pipelines and in August said a Liberal overhaul of the process would apply to existing pipelines.

Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan has also written Trudeau, asking the prime minister to put the review on hold while his government implements its promised changes.

The B.C. government announced last week it could not support the project because of concerns about spill response and aboriginal support, while the Alberta government issued its support because of the economic benefits.


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