News

‘This Pipeline is Dead’

Tribes, environmental groups celebrate halt of Trans Mountain expansion

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

A landmark court decision issued last week casts doubt on whether Kinder Morgan’s troubled and controversial Trans Mountain pipeline project can go forward.

Canada’s Federal Court of Appeal found that the Canadian government did not properly assess the impact that the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project could have on the survival of the endangered Southern Resident orca, including the threat posed by a seven-fold increase in oil tanker ship traffic through the orcas’ habitat. The court also ruled that Indigenous people in British Columbia were not properly consulted before the project was approved by Canada’s government.

The court overturned federal permits for the Trans Mountain pipeline and tanker project, requiring the federal government to both redo its consultations with First Nations on the project and assess the impacts of the project on the endangered Southern Residents. The decisions represent a major setback for the expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline and its prospects of being completed.

The court case was brought by a coalition of Canadian First Nations, cities, and conservation organizations.

Environmental groups and tribal representatives on both sides of the border—including the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, Tulalip Tribes, Lummi Nation, and Suquamish Tribe—praised the decision. The U.S. tribes were not a recognized party to the court case.

“Over the last 100 years, our most sacred site, the Salish Sea, has been deeply impacted by our pollution-based economy,” said Swinomish Tribal Chair Brian Cladoosby, who led a gathering of Coast Salish to celebrate the decision. “The place that we’re living now is where we have been since time immemorial. All of our roots go deep and our bloodlines are woven throughout the Salish Sea. Coast Salish and all native peoples are what you call a place-based society. What that means is, we just can’t pick up and move to Ottawa or Montana or Texas. We are where we are.”

In 2014, the four U.S. tribes intervened in the Canadian National Energy Board proceeding considering whether to issue permits for the pipeline. They joined their Canadian First Nation partners in vigorously opposing the project due to its impacts on treaty rights, livelihoods and culture. The project would move close to 900,000 barrels of tar sands crude adjacent the sensitive waters of the Salish Sea, where much of it would be shipped through shared U.S. and Canadian marine waters.

Sven Biggs, climate campaigner for the environmental advocacy group Stand.earth, called the decision “a vindication for everyone who worked to stop the Trans Mountain pipeline and tanker project— the hundreds of Water Protectors who were arrested in acts of peaceful civil disobedience, the tens of thousands of climate activists who marched against this pipeline, and the millions of Canadians who used their votes to elect candidates committed to creating a better future for Canada and the world.”

“This is a resounding defeat of a nearly decade-long fight against a mega-project to export tar sands through the Salish Sea that would have brought a sevenfold increase in tar sands tanker traffic through the habitat of the Southern Resident orca,” agreed Eddie Ury, Clean Energy program manager for RE Sources. “The Tsleil Waututh, Squamish, Secwépemc, and Coldwater First Nations brought this suit against Canada.”

Tribes and environmental groups feared the increase in oil tankers would have triggered a seemingly inevitable increase in groundings, accidents, incidents, leaks and oil spills. Experts agree that a serious oil spill in the Salish Sea would devastate an already-stressed marine environment and likely lead to collapses in the remaining salmon stocks and further contamination of shellfish beds, wiping out Indigenous fishing rights.

The federal court found, “Project-related tankers carry the risk of significant, if not catastrophic, adverse environmental and socio-economic effects should a spill occur.” These are precisely the risks brought to the NEB’s attention by the U.S. Tribes.

“We are reviewing the decision with the government of Canada and are taking the appropriate time to assess next steps,” Ian Anderson said in a statement on behalf of Kinder Morgan Canada Ltd. “We remain committed to building this project in consideration of communities and the environment, with meaningful consultation with Indigenous Peoples and for the benefit of Canadians. Trans Mountain is currently taking measures to suspend construction-related activities on the Project in a safe and orderly manner.”

Anderson stressed that the court decision was not a condition of the transaction between Kinder Morgan and Canadian government—the anticipated purchase of the pipeline by the Justin Trudeau administration that would nationalize the project.

Kinder Morgan Canada stockholders approved Canada’s offer to purchase the Trans Mountain pipeline and tanker project, accepting $4.5 billion from the federal government for a line they only paid $550 million for in 2005.

Canada’s Indigeneous tribes strongly oppose the purchase.

“No matter who owns this pipeline and tanker project, it will be stopped. Kinder Morgan executives recognized Justin Trudeau’s desperation to placate the oil lobby and are exiting the project with massive profits on the backs of Canadian taxpayers,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC). “The $4.5 billion the Trudeau government wants to spend could place Canada at the top of the pack for renewable energy instead of binding us to 60-plus years of increased climate-destroying emissions.”

“The ruling gives Canada a chance to walk away from this disastrous and costly project and we encourage Prime Minister Trudeau to do so,” Greenpeace USA Tar Sands Campaigner Rachel Rye Butler said. “The Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project is once again facing delay and uncertainty, making it all the more perplexing why the Canadian government would continue to push forward a pipeline that does not have consent from the Indigenous Nations whose land it crosses, and that threatens the climate and coastal economies.

“It’s not surprising that 99 percent of Kinder Morgan Canada’s shareholders voted today to officially sell the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project to the Canadian government,” Butler said. “In what can only be viewed as a bailout to the company, the Canadian government bought the project from Kinder Morgan for $4.5 billion earlier this year as the company was looking to unload the beleaguered pipeline.”

The ruling makes it clear that Trudeau’s decision to buy the pipeline was poorly conceived, Stand.earth representatives agreed.

“For years, we have insisted that federal consultation with First Nations was flawed and that the federal government ignored the threat to the dwindling orca population,” Tzeporah Berman, deputy director for Stand.earth noted.

“This pipeline is dead. It’s time for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the federal government to stop wasting taxpayer money and move on.”

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