By Nia Williams
CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - Two environmental groups on Tuesday filed for a judicial review of the Canadian government's decision to approve Kinder Morgan's <KMI.N> Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, the first legal challenge to the project since it received the green light last month.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Cabinet on Nov. 29 approved trebling capacity on the pipeline, which ships oil sands crude from Alberta to the Port of Vancouver, British Columbia, despite fierce opposition from environmental and aboriginal groups.
Ecojustice, the law firm representing environmental groups Living Oceans Society and Raincoast Conservation Foundation, said the expanded pipeline and an increase in oil tanker traffic will be a "death knell" for a pod of endangered Southern Resident killer whales off the coast of British Columbia.
Dyna Tuytel, a lawyer for Ecojustice, said the basis for the lawsuit is that the killer whales are covered by Canada's Species at Risk Act, meaning the government is legally required to protect them.
"The ships' noise interferes with their ability to communicate and there is increased risk of pollution from major spills and smaller ones," Tuytel said.
Ecojustice had filed one lawsuit on behalf of its two clients against Trans Mountain in the summer, also citing risks to the killer whales. That suit challenged the National Energy Board's review of the project, which recommended the government approve it.
Tuytel said that initial case was ongoing, but the court may combine the two lawsuits and hear them together.
There are around another six legal challenges against the NEB review of Trans Mountain ongoing, filed by municipalities and First Nations on the pipeline route.
Tuytel said it was likely those groups would launch fresh legal action against the Canadian government decision.
The lawsuit was filed against the Cabinet, citing the attorney general of Canada. The Justice Department did not immediately respond to request for comment.
(Reporting by Nia Williams; Editing by Paul Simao and Leslie Adler)