National Energy Board

Paris or pipelines? Trudeau can’t have both

Broken promises don’t restore confidence in NEB process
Photo: Maureen

What’s in a campaign promise? Right now, Prime Minister Trudeau’s government is letting pipelines go forward in a broken review process, but Canadians have a right to hold him to his commitments.

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Today, TransCanada filed the rest of its Energy East pipeline application to the National Energy Board, making nearly 700 changes to the proposed route and raising the projected price tag by $4 billion. Meanwhile, Kinder Morgan is also meeting with the NEB today to argue that its 1,150-km pipeline is in the public’s interest.

Canada just signed onto an international climate agreement, signalling a willingness to tackle climate change and reinforcing the inevitably of the transition away from fossil fuels. Yet there is a huge gap between rhetoric and action in the Paris deal, with existing plans far from what is required to keep global temperature rises within a safe level.

The same sort of gap is found in the Trudeau government’s policies here at home.

‘Real change’ looks like more of the same

Like many, I’ve been cautiously optimistic since election day. It felt nice after a decade of Stephen Harper to get some good news, and I started to think that our leaders, especially the prime minister, might understand that climate leaders don’t build infrastructure like tar sands pipelines.

But instead, recent comments from Jim Carr, minister of natural resources, along with questionable appointments to his office and today’s news, have turned my cautious optimism into cynicism.

As world leaders were taking the stage at COP21 in Paris, Minister Carr told the oil industry that it “will not be asked to go back to square one” with the existing NEB reviews of the Kinder Morgan and Energy East projects. Last week, he reassured Canadians that promised reforms were still on the table. In the same breath, he said that the NEB changes will be coming early in the new year and will include a “transition phase,” but he also reiterated that “the process continues” and pipelines under review “won’t go back to square one.”

In what world does building new, massive fossil fuel infrastructure such as the Energy East and Kinder Morgan pipelines make sense? Certainly not for a country that’s serious about using 100 per cent renewable energy by 2050. Building pipelines that facilitate tar sands expansion simply isn’t compatible with the emissions pledges that Canada just made on the international stage. In fact, we know that keeping 85 per cent of tar sands in the ground is what’s needed in Canada if we want to have a shot at staying under the 2C threshold of global warming, let alone aim for 1.5C. That’s science speaking.

Business as usual for pipelines

The government’s policy also matters because of Trudeau’s campaign promises. During the election, he pledged to overhaul the NEB and introduce a new review process for pipeline projects that includes considerations of climate change, listens to community voices (especially First Nations), and rebuilds Canada’s environmental regulations. At campaign events across the country, he was asked whether these changes would apply to specific projects.

In one notable instance, when asked about the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain review in British Columbia, Justin Trudeau reassured his questioner that the promised overhaul “applies to existing projects, existing pipelines as well” and “that process needs to be redone.” He went as far as to say that “even though governments grant permits, only communities grant permission.” He promised time and again that he’d focus on restoring public confidence in the broken, flawed review process.

Yet the existing reviews for two major tar sands pipelines are still proceeding and passing important milestones.

The final round of Kinder Morgan hearings in B.C. are scheduled to start on Jan. 18 in Burnaby, and TransCanada filed the rest of its piecemeal application for the largest tar sands pipeline on the continent today. As for Enbridge’s east and west pipelines, they have already been approved by the NEB under the old rules. The Liberal government just confirmed a tanker ban on British Columbia’s northern coast, which would effectively stop Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline, but its Line 9B pipeline flow was reversed last week to bring western crude oil from Sarnia to Montreal, right in the middle of the climate conference in Paris.

Dozens of lawsuits have been filed against the NEB, no climate reviews have been conducted despite 100,000 people demanding one for Energy East, consultation with Indigenous communities has been inadequate, and public participation rules were curtailed through omnibus bills made by the previous government.

On top of that, it was revealed that four political appointments were quietly made by Harper right before his departure to make sure the NEB would be staffed by some oil-friendly officials. The current regulatory regime in Canada was gutted and virtually rewritten by the oil industry, and that the violation of Indigenous rights around fossil fuel extraction projects in Canada has been ongoing in that framework.

To say that the current reviews are illegitimate is not an exaggeration. Right now, the Liberal government is essentially accepting reviews from the Harper era that they actively campaigned against. That’s certainly not a way to restore confidence.

Under these circumstances, if the government does not act swiftly, communities have a right to seek an injunction against the broken process. That’s why people across the country will be ready to take creative action big and small in communities along the pipeline routes to enforce a “People’s Injunction” in early 2016 if the government does not keep its word by Jan. 15.

We simply cannot be investing in infrastructure designed to transport the very fossil fuels world leaders, including Trudeau, just agreed to transition away from with as much urgency as we can muster.

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