“Canada is back my friends. We are here to help.”
When Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau made this statement last year, he was newly elected and addressing the UN’s 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris. Canada’s renewed focus on battling climate change was a big deal. But, if approving two massive new pipeline projects that will send the Alberta tar sands crude around the world is his idea of helping in the fight against climate change, many are wondering what Trudeau might do in a less environmentally generous frame of mind.
Photo courtesy of SumOfUs
Despite his Paris pledge to become an international climate leader, on Tuesday, Trudeau announced the approval of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline project. The project, proposed by the Texas based energy infrastructure company, would twin an existing pipeline that runs from the tar sands mines in Alberta to the Pacific Coast and will increase the pipeline’s capacity by 300,000 barrels per day. The Trudeau government also approved the expansion of the Line 3 pipeline between Alberta and Wisconsin that will increase the existing pipeline’s capacity by 370,000 barrels of oil per day.
Approval of the projects assure expansion of mining in the Alberta tar sands — considered to be one of the most environmentally destructive projects on the planet — and a corresponding increase in greenhouse gas emissions.
“Today’s announcement may as well have said that Canada is pulling out of the Paris climate agreement. By approving the Kinder Morgan and Line 3 pipelines, there is no way Canada can meet those commitments. Justin Trudeau has broken his promises for real climate leadership, and broken his promise to respect the rights of Indigenous peoples,” Aurore Fauret, Tar Sands Campaign Coordinator with 350.org said on Tuesday.
“>“Enbridge’s proposed replacement and expansion of Line 3 from Alberta to Wisconsin would add up to 525,000 barrels per day (bpd) of new capacity, bringing total capacity for the line up to 915,000 bpd,” Natural Resources Defence Council’s Joshua Axelrod said in a blog post following the Trudeau announcement. “The upper Midwest has already witnessed the aftermath of one major tar sands spill when an Enbridge pipeline ruptured in 2010. That memory alone should remind us all that the risks these new pipelines pose to our critical water resources are simply too great to bear.”
The Trudeau government, however, rejected Canadian energy company Enbridge Inc’s Northern Gateway pipeline proposal which would run through a rain forest. The announcement also comes on the heels of the Canadian federal government’s recent pledge to phase out coal energy from the country to 2030.
Experts argue that it will now be difficult for Canada to meet its obligations under the Paris Agreement. The country had pledged a 30 percent reduction in the 2005 level of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, which was a tough task even before the two pipelines were approved.
“Massive new export pipelines will substantially increase Canada’s climate pollution for decades into the future at a time when our emissions must drop quickly,” says a report by Oil Change International, a research and advocacy organization focused on fossil fuels. “Meeting Canada’s obligations under the Paris Agreement requires emissions to peak now. If built, these projects would facilitate huge growth in the tar sands, increasing total greenhouse gas pollution by as much as 277 million tons of CO2 every year – equivalent to the pollution from 58 million cars on the road.”
Ironically, Trudeau said approving the pipelines was an “integral part of our plan to uphold the Paris Agreement to reduce emissions.”
Canadian environmental groups are already gearing up to stop the Trans Mountain project in its tracks by utilizing a rarely used piece of provincial legislation dubbed the “Recall and Initiative Act.”
“In the courtroom or at the ballot box, First Nations and British Columbians will stop this Texas tanker project peacefully and democratically — just like we stopped Enbridge,” says Kai Nagata, communications director of British Columbia-based environmental group Dogwood Initiative. “Prime Minister Harper learned the hard way what happens when you try to ram a pipeline through to the coast without consent.”
An interesting part of British Columbia’s political system allows residents to write “private member’s” bills proposing new provincial legislation. If enough residents sign on to the bill — 10 percent of registered voters — the government must either table the bill or hold a referendum. In recent history, a private member’s bill triggered a referendum over a proposed Harmonized Sales Tax, which defeated the proposed tax and caused Premier Gordon Campbell his job.
“It’s this funny mechanism that exists in some western states in the US and BC and it dates back to the Wild West when governments were so corrupt the only way to get a bill forward was to either recall them or the ram it through via direct democracy,” says Nagata.
The group is already laying the groundwork for what could be a massive undertaking, collecting signatures at Let BC Vote.
According to Nagata, there are a five dozen permits controlled by the province that Kinder Morgan will require before construction can begin on Trans Mountain. With an election slated for May 9 next year, the group is calling for clarity on the Kinder Morgan issue from both the governing Liberal Party and the official opposition New Democratic Party.
Clarity that has been lacking on the part of Premier Chrissy Clark, who Nagata says has displayed an uncanny ability to sit on the fence, sticking to five conditions that need to be met before she signs off on any new pipelines in the province.
“In anticipation of a federal decision, our government has been consistent in fighting for British Columbia with the five conditions for any new or expanded heavy-oil pipeline. That remains the case today, and we will work to ensure each of our conditions are met,” said BC Minister of Environment Mary Polak, outlining the provincial government’s position in a statement issued following federal approval of Trans Mountain.
The five conditions include commitments to First Nations, completing an environmental review, a share of economic benefits along with “World-leading” practices regarding oil spill response and prevention. But the conditions lack specific targets, and given the failed response to October’s diesel oil spill off the coast of Bella Bella on BC’s central coast, the “world-leading” response condition seems to be a pipe dream.
“It must be getting uncomfortable sitting up there (on the fence) for years,” says Nagata. “So far, the premier has done her job standing up for the interests of British Columbia and she’s exacted a number of impressive concessions from the federal government. But at some point, she needs to make a clear decision.”
The Trans Mountain pipeline was approved despite the efforts of Tsleil-Waututh Nation, located on the Burrard Inlet in North Vancouver near the Burnaby terminus of the pipeline. The group met with Jim Carr, Canada’s minister of natural resources in a last-ditch effort to convince the government to reject Kinder Morgan’s proposal by presenting numerous reports contradicting many of Kinder Morgan’s own claims.
“I have to say that I am not totally surprised by the permit decision today but I am disappointed. There is a terrible history of the mistreatment of First Nations people in Canada. It saddens me because we hoped things might be different with Trudeau but today’s decision is a big step backwards.” said Charlene Aleck Spokesperson for Tsleil-Waututh Nation Sacred Trust Initiative.
Tsleil-Waututh lost a court battle over the pipeline in September, but the tribe has vowed more lawsuits challenging the project based on their treaty rights.
With a focus on indigenous rights and water, the Kinder Morgan approval already has some worried about a potential Standing Rock-style situation developing on the British Columbia coast.
“With this announcement, Prime Minister Trudeau has broken his climate commitments, broken his commitments to indigenous rights, and has declared war on BC. If Prime Minister Trudeau wanted to bring Standing Rock-like protests to Canada, he succeeded,” says Greenpeace campaign Mike Hudema.
One thing is certain, the movement at Standing Rock has inspired a renewed commitment to fighting oil pipeline projects in North America. What that will look like in Canada remains to be seen, but any pipeline or fossil fuel project approval by any level of government marks the beginning of a long battle, not the end.