Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s generous offer this week to bail out Kinder Morgan Inc. and its Trans Mountain pipeline expansion has been met with a cold shoulder from the company, a torrent of pushback from the B.C. government and the climate and energy community, and analysis suggesting the public grandstanding is a screen for the Houston-based pipeliner’s private determination to walk away from the venture.
Morneau issued a “major update” on the project Wednesday, then doubled down Thursday, suggesting pension funds as potential investors in the C$7.4-billion megaproject. “We have very sophisticated Canadian pension funds and institutional investors that have a high level of understanding of how you embark on infrastructure projects, and a great deal of experience around the world in bringing those projects to completion,” he told Reuters.
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“If it’s an opportunity that has decent returns then we’ll look at it,” responded Canada Pension Plan Investment Board CEO Mark Machin. But Reuters cited an unnamed fossil industry source who found the whole discussion puzzling. “It doesn’t matter who the owner is; even if it’s the federal government, you’re not getting the grandma off the picket line in Burnaby,” the source said.
“U.S. companies are likely more focused on easing pipeline bottlenecks south of the border and are not interested in taking on the Trans Mountain project,” the news agency added, citing the same source.
In his Wednesday announcement, Morneau said the federal government is “willing to indemnify the project against any financial loss that derives from Premier (John) Horgan’s attempts to delay or obstruct the project.” He added that “this indemnification would allow Kinder Morgan to finish what they started—what they received federal and B.C. provincial approval to do.”
Indemnification “means the federal government would legally agree to bear any financial losses incurred by Kinder Morgan because of yet-to-be-defined ‘politically motivated delays,’” The Canadian Press explains. “Those costs would be covered either directly or indirectly through reimbursement by the Canadian taxpayer.”
Morneau said the offer would extend to any investor that took the project over from Kinder.
Kinder Morgan Canadian Chair and CEO Steve Kean acknowledged Morneau’s kind offer, but wasn’t moved.
“The time period for reaching a resolution is short and, if we don’t reach a resolution by May 31, as we’ve said, it’s hard to conceive of a scenario under which we can proceed,” he told the Canadian subsidiary’s first annual meeting in Calgary.
“We remain steadfast in our previously stated principles: clarity on the path forward, particularly with respect to the ability to construct through British Columbia, and ensuring adequate protection of our KML shareholders,” he added in a more widely-reported statement. “While discussions are ongoing, we are not yet in alignment and will not negotiate in public.”
Horgan responded that Morneau “is trying to use our government as an excuse, as the federal government puts taxpayer money on the line to backstop risks to private investors, while completely ignoring the risks to B.C. The fact is, we’ve been issuing permits in a fair and timely manner, and have proposed new regulations that are now referred to court to confirm our jurisdiction.”
The province is “standing up for British Columbia’s environment, economy, and our coast against the threat of a bitumen spill,” Horgan added. “We are acting well within B.C.’s rights to defend our environment, and the tens of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars of economic activity that depend on it.”
The reaction from the climate community was immediate and fierce, with the Council of Canadians announcing an emergency rally on Parliament Hill May 22 featuring Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, the federal Green and NDP leaders, and the Council’s Maude Barlow.
“Let’s be clear—today’s announcement was a pledge to write a blank cheque, backed by public money, to a Texas oil company in a desperate play to bail out a pipeline that violates Justin Trudeau’s own promises on climate change and Indigenous rights,” wrote 350 Canada’s Aurore Fauret. “It’s desperate, dangerous, and delusional, and it ignores the fact that opposition to this pipeline in the courts, in the streets, and all across Canada, is only going to grow, and there’s no indemnity against that.”
“This is a desperate attempt by the Trudeau government to use taxpayer money to bail out a collapsing project,” agreed Stand.earth Campaigns and Communications Director Tzeporah Berman. “It’s fiscally irresponsible and ignores the growing protests to the project and the federal government’s own promises on Indigenous reconciliation. Today’s announcement does nothing but embolden the opposition fighting to stop this dirty and dangerous project—they can’t indemnify investors against us.”
Emergency room physician Dr. Courtney Howard, president of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, called the federal decision “an inappropriate use of public money that takes us further away from a healthy response to climate change, which the World Health Organization calls ‘the greatest threat to global health in the 21st century’.”
“The federal government’s commitment to bail out the Kinder Morgan pipeline is a totally inappropriate use of public money,” said Environmental Defence Executive Director Tim Gray. “Polling shows that Canadians do not support government investment in this pipeline. Government guarantees to Kinder Morgan shareholders are at odds with the commitment to reduce fossil fuel subsidies and promises to fix the energy project review process. It also adds weight to recent revelations that the decision to approve the project was made before a full analysis of possible impacts was completed.”
In a list of six reasons the pipeline will never be built, the Dogwood Initiative noted that Kinder Morgan hasn’t even met all the project conditions imposed by the National Energy Board.
“This is Kinder Morgan’s other big tell,” the organization states. “They still don’t have a final route approved through huge swaths of British Columbia. Not only that—the company recently asked the NEB to delay their upcoming hearings. Everyday residents of the Fraser Valley were ready with their detailed submissions, but Kinder Morgan was not. This is a long-standing pattern for the Texas company, which has literally never built a pipeline in Canada before.”
Moreover, “the NEB rejected Kinder Morgan’s attempt to get out of its responsibility to have cash on hand in the event of an oil spill (they would be responsible for paying for the response),” Dogwood adds. “It’s not just because they’re a company with a bad track record—they straight up don’t have the money.”
On National Observer, economist Robyn Allan concludes that “the urgency and drama surrounding Kinder Morgan’s hostage-taking—and the company’s aggressive attack against the Province of B.C. as the reason behind it—is grandstanding.” The Houston-based pipeliner may have erred in not taking seriously Horgan’s campaign promise to fight the pipeline by all means possible, but the company’s “fanfare announcement is a cover-up. Trans Mountain pipeline expansion lacked commercial viability from the get-go. It has required government-supported handouts at every stage of development. Kinder Morgan has put very little shareholder capital at risk. It has always looked to others—the shippers, Canadian investors and Canadian taxpayers—to do so.”