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Northwest Tribes Vow to Continue Opposition to Canadian Pipeline

U.S. Tribes join Canadian First Nations in their disappointment over Canada’s regulatory approval of the TransMountain pipeline


Opposition to the proposed TransMountain pipeline ramped up today as Coast Salish Tribes on both sides of the U.S.-Canadian border vowed to continue to fight the project.

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The proposed tar sands pipeline expansion is one of several projects that would dramatically increase the passage of tankers and bulk carriers through the Salish Sea on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border.

Protests by tribal and First Nations members came after Canada's National Energy Board (NEB) announced it will recommend approval of the pipeline to the Canadian federal government. The pipeline project is being proposed and bankrolled by Texas oil giant Kinder Morgan.

"The Tulalip Tribes are extremely disappointed with the NEB's decision to recommend approval of the TransMountain Pipeline. We are facing the very real threat of an oil spill that puts the Salish Sea at risk," said Mel Sheldon, Tulalip Tribes Chairman. "The fishing grounds of the Salish Sea are the lifeblood of our peoples. We cannot sit idly by while these waters are threatened by reckless increases in oil tanker traffic and the increased risk of catastrophic oil spills."

Almost three years ago, an alliance of Northwest U.S. Treaty tribes, represented by Earthjustice, intervened in Canadian permit proceedings to oppose the new tar sands pipeline. The U.S. Tribes' position before Canada's National Energy Board represented a critical call to safeguard the Salish Sea from increased oil tanker traffic and greater risk of oil spills.

The four U.S. tribes, the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, Tulalip Tribes, Suquamish Tribe and Lummi Nation, along with scores of Canadian First Nations and conservationists, the cities of Vancouver and Burnaby, and the Province of British Columbia aligned in opposition to the pipeline proposal

"The NEB listened politely and then ignored the concerns of U.S. sovereign tribal nations," said Kristen Boyles, an attorney with Earthjustice. "The recommendation is a slap in the face."

Despite undisputed evidence presented by tribal nations from the U.S. and Canada about the devastation an oil spill would cause to their cultures and livelihoods, the NEB found the level of risk of an oil spill from the terminal or an oil tanker "acceptable." The NEB also found that the project would cause significant harm to orca whales and that increased tanker traffic would cause significant greenhouse gas emissions, but viewed those harms as outweighed by economic interests in the pipeline.

The TransMountain Pipeline Project calls for tripling the amount of oil shipped from tar sands fields in Alberta to approximately 890,000 barrels per day to the British Columbia coast. The pipeline would cause an almost seven-fold increase in oil tankers moving through the shared waters of the Salish Sea, paving way for an increase in groundings, accidents, and oil spills.

The proposed tar sands pipeline expansion is one of several projects that could dramatically increase the passage of tankers and bulk carriers through the Salish Sea on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border.

"The Lummi Nation has long believed that the NEB should not support or otherwise authorize the TransMountain Pipeline to go further," said Jewell James of the Lummi Nation. "No actions should be authorized without in-depth consultation with the Nations and Bands impacted by the proposed project."

"The Suquamish Tribe is disappointed that the NEB approved the TransMountain pipeline project, especially in light of the significant impacts the project will have on treaty fishing activities and the high probability of a catastrophic oil spill that would jeopardize our ancient way of life. We will continue to oppose this and other projects that threaten our ancestral waters in the Salish Sea," said Leonard Forsman, Suquamish Tribal Chairman.

The NEB recommendation is not the last step in the permitting process. An additional federal panel will review the project this summer, focusing on consultation with Canadian First Nations and assessment of some (but not all) climate change impacts. The final decision, expected no earlier than December 2016, lies with Prime Minister Trudeau and the Canadian federal cabinet.

"For 150 years we have felt the impacts of a pollution based economy," said Brian Cladoosby, Swinomish Tribal Chairman. "It is time for us to turn the tides and make decisions that reflect the deteriorated state of the Salish Sea's health and resources. This past week we celebrated a great victory when the United States made a decision to protect Treaty Rights, a constitutional responsibility, by denying a permit for the largest coal terminal in North America. We call on Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet to recognize this decision and hear the message from the First People who have called this place home since time immemorial, the Coast Salish, to deny this project."

Earthjustice is a non-profit public interest law firm dedicated to protecting the magnificent places, natural resources, and wildlife of this earth, and to defending the right of all people to a healthy environment. We bring about far-reaching change by enforcing and strengthening environmental laws on behalf of hundreds of organizations, coalitions and communities.