It isn’t their intent, but Ecojustice could make things a whole lot tougher for Enbridge if their court case against the federal government proves successful.
Ecojustice, filed an application in federal court, to force the Conservative government to prescribe and implement a recovery plan for four species listed under the Species at Risk Act, the marbled murrelet, Pacific humpback whale, southern mountain caribou and the Nechako white sturgeon.
By law, the federal government must produce and implement a recovery strategy for species identified as threatened or endangered under SARA.
A recovery strategy serves to identify critical habitat for species of concern and subsequently afford protection to the habitat.
Ecojustice chose the four species because the government is at least three years behind in their commitment.
More importantly, the habitat, terrestrial and marine, of each of these species would be impacted by the construction and operation of Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline.
The current legal action represents the fifth such lawsuit Ecojustice has brought against the federal government for failure to meet SARA obligations.
“We feel we have strong arguments. In this case there’s a very clear duty under the Act [SARA] to come up with a recovery strategy within a mandatory deadline,” Sean Nixon, lead counsel for Ecojustice, said.
“Because they are least three years behind for the species named, we believe we have a strong case they are acting unlawfully.”
The suit seeks an order from the court to force the federal government to release recovery strategies.
Once the recovery strategies are released and critical habitat identified, the federal government will have 180 days to protect the habitat.
The lawsuit, although not directed specifically at Enbridge, serves to highlight how the federal government’s delay in producing and enforcing recovery strategies can have concrete impacts on species at risk, including the four species named in the most recent lawsuit, Nixon said.
“There’s an environmental assessment process going on [joint review panel on proposed Northern Gateway pipeline] without anyone having identified their critical habitat and without a thorough assessment of what the effects of proposed tanker traffic or the pipeline itself might be on the critical habitat of the four species.”
If the lawsuit is successful, it would oblige Enbridge to obtain a permit, under the Species at Risk Act, to pursue the construction and use of the pipeline as well as for the marine transport of the tarsands bitumen.
“The Species at Risk Act has very specific conditions for giving out permits in critical habitat.
“But that’s the problem with the delay, by the time the critical habitat is identified for these species and protected, it may be too late and our only option will be to foreclose.”
The federal government is thus far not saying much regarding this latest lawsuit.
“Our Government takes our responsibilities under the Species at Risk Act seriously,” Press Secretary
Office of the Minister of the Environment Adam Sweet said.
“As the matter you raise is before the courts, it would be inappropriate to comment further.”