Members of the Wet'suwet'en on Lelu Island in protest. Opposition leaders of the Pacific NorthWest LNG filed three lawsuits against the federal government on Oct. 27 to overturn approval for the project.

UPDATE: Federal government responds to First Nations, environmental group court action over approval of Pacific NorthWest LNG project

First Nations, environmental group will take the government to court over approval of Pacific NorthWest LNG project on Lelu Island.

The federal government stands behind its decision to approve the Pacific NorthWest LNG project after some First Nations and an environmental group took legal action on Thursday, Oct. 27 to overturn the approval.

The proposed $36-billion liquefied natural gas project received conditional approval from the government on Sept. 27 and opposition groups have threatened legal action since. The government’s approval included 190 legally binding conditions for the proponent including a cap on greenhouse gas emissions and an independent environmental monitoring group with Lax Kw’alaams Band and the Metlakatla First Nation.

“This project underwent a three-year rigorous and thorough science-based process that evaluated and incorporated mitigation measures that will minimize the environmental impacts,” stated Karen Fish, the communications advisor for the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA), in an email.

The statement from the CEAA pointed out that this was the first ever cap on GHG emissions for a project and that Aboriginal groups participated in the environmental assessment working group during the project’s review.

“Indigenous groups also have agreements with the proponent that will result in significant economic benefits and jobs,” read the CEAA statement. In addition, the Environmental Assessment Report, as well as the Environmental Assessment Decision Statement and Conditions of the Pacific NorthWest LNG Project, are publicly accessible online, which includes the science supporting the environmental assessment of the project.

Still, the concern for salmon habitat around Lelu Island, where the LNG export terminal is planned, led opponents to launch multiple lawsuits at 10 a.m. at the federal courthouse in Vancouver. Representatives from Wet’suwet’en, Gitxsan, Lake Babine and Haida First Nations were there in support of the Gitwilgyoots, Gitanyow and SkeenaWild.

Chief negotiator, Chief Malii (Glen Williams) of the Gitanyow Hereditary Chiefs, stated that due to environmental concerns and a lack of consultation with the Gitanyow and Gitwilgyoots they’re seeking a review on the decision the federal government made to approve the project.

“The government did not comply with the law to consult and accommodate with the Gitanyow interests,” Williams said. Petronas, the Malaysian state-owned oil and gas company that is leading the LNG project, will also be included in the lawsuits.

He explained that the LNG project will affect the Gitanyow because it’s adjacent to Lelu Island and Flora Bank, where a critical salmon habitat is for smolts and adults returning to the river. “We know that the smolts that originate from the Kitwanga River, where we have territory, utilize that site. We’ve done some DNA testing and that has confirmed that.”

He said that if they build the pipeline eventually Flora Bank will disappear and future food stocks will dwindle for community members.

There will be three legal cases filed, two involving First Nations groups and the other from SkeenaWild Conservation Trust. Greg Knox, the executive director, said the environmental assessment agency failed to provide adequate information to both the minister of the environment and the federal cabinet to make and informed decision.

“Their conclusion says there will be 35,000 square meters of critical salmon habitat that will be permanently destroyed and they say that habitat will be created to compensate for that loss,” Knox said adding that the eel grass habitat would be replaced with rocky reefs, a completely different habitat. “They provided no evidence to show that the salmon habitat that would be created would be effective.”

Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen spoke to media on the subject on Oct. 26. He said the permits issued to Petronas were based on “incredibly biased if not outright fraudulent science. So it doesn’t implicitly suggest that the federal government committed fraud but that the ministers were making a decision based on something that wasn’t true, particularly around science relating to salmon and the destruction of salmon habitat.”

Cullen has not looked at the legal file yet. However, he said that science conducted by the Lax Kw’alaams and other groups were opposite to what Petronas suggested was true.

“The science that was used by the company was designed not to find fish. It was designed not to see problems,” Cullen said. “It’s rife with problems and open to legal challenge, which is not good for industry or for communities.”