As Canada's National Energy Board (NEB) begins hearing testimony on the controversial Kinder Morgan tar sands pipeline expansion project in British Columbia, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is under fire from environmentalists and First Nations activists who say he's breaking an election promise to fix what they call a broken pipeline approval process.
"We're here to change the fundamentally flawed NEB process," said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs at a protest—one of several taking place around the country this week—on Tuesday. "The outstanding question of today is, Prime Minister Trudeau, where are you?"
"Every day these hearings proceed, more damage is done."
—Kai Nagata, Dogwood Initiative
Kinder Morgan Canada is seeking NEB approval to increase the capacity of its Trans Mountain Pipeline to 890,000 barrels a day from 300,000. According to the Vancouver Sun on Wednesday, the expansion could increase the number of tanker trips through the region from about 70 per year to more than 400, raising the prospect of major spills, as well as other social, economic, and environmental impacts.
Campaigners say the NEB approval process doesn't sufficiently take into account any such individual and cumulative impacts, resultant greenhouse gas emissions, or First Nations rights and traditions. What's more, they charge that the NEB—packed with fossil fuels executives appointed by former Prime Minister Stephen Harper—makes no effort to meaningfully involve members of the public.
"Public faith in the NEB is at an all time low," said Karen Campbell, a lawyer at the Canadian legal charity Ecojustice, on Wednesday.
Explaining why he would not give his scheduled testimony, Lower Nicola Indian Band Chief Aaron Sam told Indian Country Today Media Network: "The National Energy Board process does not take our considerations seriously. It does not take into consideration the rights of Indigenous people. It doesn't take into serious consideration taking care of the environment, our salmon, our animals, our water, and we're not going to take part in a process that has a predetermined outcome."
As the National Observer reports, "Under its 'real change' election campaign in 2015, the Liberal Party promised to 'make environmental assessments credible again' with an overhaul of the NEB. The government has yet to make an announcement however, on how the process will change, despite large pipeline projects like the Trans Mountain expansion currently under review."
"The Prime Minister said repeatedly during the election that the process is flawed and must be fixed, but so far we’ve seen nothing. The clock is ticking for Ottawa to fulfill this key election promise," Kai Nagata of the Dogwood Initiative said. "Every day these hearings proceed, more damage is done."
But in fact, DeSmog Canada noted on Tuesday, "Trudeau's government has been clear on several occasions pipeline projects currently under National Energy Board review will not be forced to go back to 'square one,' that is, begin their application process completely from scratch."
Speaking to DeSmog, Council of Canadians energy and climate justice campaigner Andrea Harden-Donahue conceded: "We shouldn't rush the creation of a new process."
However, she added, "continuing with the flawed Kinder Morgan and Energy East reviews is entirely inconsistent with Liberal promises. How can a 'transition strategy' rectify the failings around public participation and Indigenous consultation for these projects. I don't see how this can happen. We are not saying pipeline companies have to go back to square one. All evidence submitted goes on hold and this can be supplemented with additional evidence after the changes are made."
Still, Derek Leahy wrote for DeSmog:
By allowing pipeline reviews to proceed under the previous federal government’s rules, the Liberal government may be condemning projects to go back to ‘square one’ regardless. First Nations, and environmental organizations over the last four years have not been hesitant to take pipeline reviews to court over violations of ‘aboriginal’ rights or the freedom of expression.
The NEB hearings, scheduled to take place in Burnaby between January 19-29, are being live-streamed here.