Canada’s National Energy Board is recommending federal cabinet re-approval of the controversial Trans Mountain pipeline expansion despite its likely “significant” environmental and climate impacts, prompting multiple Indigenous and environmental opponents to vow the project will never be completed.
“The project would cause ‘significant adverse environmental effects’ on the southern resident killer whale population, and while a worst-case spill from the pipeline or an oil tanker is not likely, ‘the effects would be significant,’” CBC reports, citing NEB Chief Environmental Officer Robert Steedman.
“While these effects weighed heavily in the NEB’s consideration of project-related marine shipping, the NEB recommends that the Government of Canada find that they can be justified in the circumstances, in light of the considerable benefits of the project and measures to minimize the effects,” the NEB decision stated.
“Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs (UBCIC), said it’s ‘ludicrous’ that economic interests are considered more important than killer whales,” National Observer reports. “We are proud British Columbians, and we have a duty to protect what we’ve all been blessed with in British Columbia in regard to the pristine beauty of the environment,” Philip said. “We will rise to the challenge.”
“I think the NEB has a long record of siding with industry over communities and other concerns…so we have every expectation that they’re going to recommend the project go ahead despite the serious problems with it,” said Stand.earth climate campaigner Sven Biggs, in the lead-up to the NEB announcement. “It’s likely there are going to be more lawsuits and more delays because of them, and if the cabinet decides to go ahead and restart construction, you’ll see protests in the streets and along the pipeline route.”
Canadian Chamber of Commerce CEO Perrin Beatty “said he was pleased the NEB sees the project as a matter of ‘national interest’, and ‘now it is up to the federal government to take the steps necessary for getting this pipeline built without any further delay’,” Observer states.
Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi called the ruling “an important milestone”, adding that Ottawa is in a “very strong position” to wrap up project consultations with affected Indigenous communities within 90 days.
“We know how important this process is to Canadians,” Sohi said in a prepared statement. “We are hopeful the work we are doing will put us in a strong position to make a decision.”
The NEB attached 16 new conditions to the approval, on top of the 156 it had already imposed, including “measures to reduce underwater noise and to protect marine species from collision, reduce the emissions of vessels, among other issues,” Observer reports. “The NEB said it applied the precautionary principle, requiring that environmental measures must anticipate and prevent environmental harm, when considering human industrial involvement with the ‘complex and interconnected ecosystem’ of the Salish Sea.”
The Board added that the pipeline “remains in the public interest of Canada,” CBC writes. “The regulator provided a list of ‘considerable’ benefits from the project including jobs across the country, government revenues, spending on pipeline materials, greater market access for Canadian oil, and training, jobs, and business opportunities for local Indigenous communities.”
It added that marine traffic off the B.C. coast is on track to increase, with or without an expanded pipeline. “The panel feels strongly that if these recommendations are implemented, they will offset the relatively minor effects of the project-related marine traffic and, in fact, will benefit the entire Salish Sea ecosystem,” Steedman said.
For the groups that have been fighting the pipeline, the decision was just another step on a long road.
“We still say no to the project,” said UBCIC Secretary Treasurer, Chief Judy Wilson. Even if one nation, one community says no, that project is not happening.”
“The troubling part for me and First Nations concerned about their water and their territories is the fact that Trudeau has stated this pipeline will be built, full stop. It makes an absolute mockery of the consultation process that was court ordered and has been accomplished today,” added UBCIC Vice President and Kwikwasut’inuxw Haxwa’mis Chief Bob Chamberlin.
“The NEB has effectively ignored the impacts on whales, Indigenous communities, and the climate. Now it is up to cabinet to reject the NEB’s recommendation and refuse to approve the project,” said Ecojustice lawyer Dyna Tuytel.
Climate Convergence Metro Vancouver responded with a Friday afternoon demonstration outside local CBC offices. “The world’s climate scientists are clear: we have 12 years to drastically reduce carbon emissions or face catastrophic consequences,” the organization stated on Facebook. “We can do this, but the clock is ticking. Instead of making urgent and meaningful investments in sustainable development and renewable energy projects, the Trudeau government is committing billions in public funds toward expanding dirty tar sands bitumen extraction.”
The news report on Common Dreams captured crossborder reaction, as well.
“I understand in British Columbia, this pipeline will provide a way of having an income,” said Noel Purser of the Suquamish Tribe, one of four Northwest U.S. Indigenous communities that challenged the project in 2013. “But is it worth the potential of a spill, that risk? Is it really worth that? Because that will impact everybody, not just here in British Columbia. It will impact us in Suquamish; it will impact our relatives in Alaska.”
“Once again, Canada’s NEB has sided with short-term Big Oil profits instead of the long-term health of the Pacific Northwest’s people, climate, and orcas,” said Marcie Keever of Friends of the Earth. “Shame on Prime Minister Trudeau, his government, and the National Energy Board of Canada for ignoring widespread opposition and serious concerns in favor of this destructive pipeline. Canada’s decision will likely bring about the extinction of the Northwest’s iconic killer whales and drive us further towards the brink of climate chaos.”
Writing in the week or so before the decision, Dogwood BC’s Kai Nagata circulated a list of the things he would and would not do once the widely-expected announcement was official.
“Here’s what I’m going to do when the news comes out: Take a deep breath, walk the dog, make dinner for my kid,” he wrote. “Here’s what I’m not going to do: Wail, gnash teeth, rend my garments, wallow in despair.”
All of that on the assumption that the outcome of the NEB’s review was already as certain as death and taxes.
“Justin Trudeau can promise hope and change and reconciliation and all that nice stuff. At the end of the day, he does what the oil companies tell him,” he wrote. “So that’s what’s wrapping up this week—another rigged review by an industry-funded, industry-staffed regulator that has never said no to a pipeline.” But “we also need to build our energy for the bigger fight ahead,” beginning when the project receives federal cabinet approval.
“That’s going to take hard work. And hard work requires us to slow down and take care of the basics: sleep, food, fresh air, our relationships with family and friends,” he wrote. But despite the “hell of a beating” communities have taken from fossil companies over the last couple of years, “I’m feeling calm and confident,” he concluded. “I hope you do, too.”