Kinder Morgan’s proposed Trans Mountain pipeline expansion came in for blistering criticism over the last week, as the City of Vancouver, First Nations, and climate and community advocates questioned the need for the project and the impartiality and effectiveness of the federal panel set up to review it.
The panel, announced last May by Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr, has a six-month mandate to double-check the National Energy Board’s approval of the $6.8-billion diluted bitumen pipeline, subject to 157 environmental, financial, and technical conditions. The decision also faces court challenges from the Squamish Nation and two environmental groups.
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Last week, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and City Manager Sadhu Johnston told the review panel that Kinder Morgan has no social licence or economic justification to triple the capacity of the existing Trans Mountain pipeline.
“There is no question from our analysis it’s not worth the risk. In fact, it’s not in Canada’s interest,” Robertson said, on the first of three days of panel hearings. “People and the environment are at risk, but there is very significant risk to Vancouver’s economy and the region’s economy.”
The second day of the hearings saw more than 300 members of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh nations show up to protest the project, the National Observer reports. On Day Three, the hearing room was almost empty—a reaction that spoke louder than any rally, according to Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs.
“We’re not confident in the process,” Phillip told panelists. “Should we appear to endorse a process that is fundamentally flawed or do we do our speaking in the streets?”
“We’re in this together,” he added. “It’s not simply an Indigenous issue. It’s a fundamental human rights issue, it’s a climate change issue, it’s an environmental issue.”
Earlier in the week, former KPMG partner and PhD chemist Eoin Finn pointed to serious flaws in the panel process, reports The Observer’s Elizabeth McSheffrey.
“The NEB denied intervener status to hundreds and in the end, even resorted to locking the public out of public hearings,” he said. “In short, the NEB process is possibly the greatest farce ever inflicted upon Canadians, up until now.”
But even by that standard, he described the ministerial panel as a “slapdash reno job” whose “independence qualifications” are open to question, given panelist Kim Baird’s past business relationship with Kinder Morgan.
“This is simply unacceptable, an insult to the intelligence of Canadians,” Finn said. “It falls far short of what was promised by the federal government,” with a panel mandate that “seems to accept that the rather ill-defined, ‘significant adverse environmental risk’ is an appropriate test for an environmental assessment.”
On the Dogwood Initiative website, anti-fossil analyst and ex-journalist Kai Nagata concludes that the panel process runs counter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s election promise to overhaul the NEB review process for existing project proposals as well as new ones. “If Trudeau issues permits on the basis of the slapdash assessment process so far, he won’t just face lawsuits from First Nations,” Nagata writes. “He’ll be betraying a written promise to British Columbians.”
After Nagata questioned candidate Trudeau on the issue during a campaign stop in B.C. last fall, he says he received a follow-up letter from Liberal Party President Anna Gainey. “Thank you for writing regarding the Liberal Party of Canada’s position on the Kinder Morgan Pipeline,” she wrote. “As you are aware, Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party of Canada have serious concerns with the process surrounding the approval of this pipeline. We cannot support the pipeline in its current form because the Conservatives have not ensured environmental, community or stakeholder consent.”
Gainey added: We agree with what you, and Canadians across the country, have been saying for a long time: Canada’s environmental assessment process is broken.”
After publicly releasing the letter for the first time, Nagata compared the Liberals’ election commitment to the conduct of the ministerial panel, noting that there was no public record of testimony, no information on how or whether stakeholders were invited to participate, no process for testing contradictory evidence, and no apparent plan for reviewing 15,000 responses to an online questionnaire and hundreds of pages of scientific evidence rejected by the NEB.
“The conclusion I am forced to draw is that this ‘redo’ is nothing more than a political barometer for the government,” Nagata writes. “With no investigative powers, scientific expertise, or resources to speak of, the panel members sit mutely in their chairs and jot down a few half-hearted notes as people plead with them from the microphones. At the end, their report goes into a top hat and—poof!—the minister pulls out a yes or a no.”
“I’ve never been more frustrated in my life,” one participant told Nagata. “What a joke,” said another.
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