100 groups urge Trudeau to halt Canada’s “broken” tar sands pipeline approval process

More than 100 groups from across Canada and the U.S. have written to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urging him to halt Canada's "broken" tar sands pipeline approval process.

“It’s essential that both the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain and Energy East review processes be halted immediately.”

by: Obert Madondo  | November 14, 2015

Activists urge Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to freeze the expansion of the Alberta tar sands during a #ClimateWelcome sit-in protest outside his Rideau Hall residence on Sunday, Nov. 8, 2015. (Photo: Obert Madondo/The Canadian Progressive)
Activists urge Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to freeze the expansion of the Alberta tar sands during a #ClimateWelcome sit-in protest outside his Rideau Hall residence on Sunday, Nov. 8, 2015. (Photo: Obert Madondo/The Canadian Progressive)

More than 100 groups from across Canada and the United States are urging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to halt Canada’s “broken” tar sands pipeline approval process.

In a joint letter issued Thursday, the groups said the National Energy Board (NEB)’s ongoing reviews -including that of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain and TransCanada’s Energy East proposals – are “failing to serve the Canadian public interest.” The NEB is the federal regulatory authority responsible for reviewing proposed energy projects.

The letter was addressed to Trudeau and Catherine McKenna, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change. The signatories include Greenpeace Canada, Environmental Defence Canada, Council of Canadians, David Suzuki Foundation, Sierra Club Canada, 350.org and Forest Ethics.

The signatories highlighted the following “fatal flaws in the current NEB review process”:

  • Failure to properly engage and consult with First Nations governments affected by pipeline proposals;
  • Failure to include an assessment of upstream and downstream impacts of greenhouse gas emissions;
  • Inability of the review process to consider, and thereby provide mitigation parameters for, the cumulative impacts of all large energy infrastructure projects, both underway and proposed;
  • Exclusion of affected members of the public from the review process;
  • Commencement of review processes before the proponent has filed all of the requisite studies;
  • Removal of oral cross-examination from hearings;
  • Perception of bias towards the proponents, most strikingly with the previous government’s recent appointment to the NEB of the Trans Mountain consultant who had prepared key evidence on the economic justification for the project;
  • Inadequacy and cuts to participant funding allocations in the face of increasingly complex project proposals;
  • Cabinet’s power to override NEB decisions;
  • Unrealistic review timelines of 15-18 months that undermine the conclusions and recommendations stemming from those reviews; and
  • Documents from the proponent not available in French for a project like Energy East that crosses the province of Quebec and could affect other French-speaking communities.

Last year, Marc Eliesen withdrew from the NEB evaluation of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain expansion project and called the NEB “a truly industry captured regulator.”

Earlier this year, over 60 groups from across Canada asked the NEB to suspend its review of the Energy East pipeline “until the broken federal regulatory process is fixed.”

RELATED: Canadian environmentalists demand overhaul of tar sands pipeline approval process

The groups’ letter further states:

We were heartened to hear your comments during the campaign that the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain review needs to be redone. It follows that the same consideration be given to the review of the TransCanada Energy East pipeline. This will ensure First Nations, municipalities, organizations and individuals engaged in these reviews do not waste further time or resources on a process whose credibility is so damaged that its outcome can never yield social license or certainty. Time is particularly of the essence with the Kinder Morgan review, which has final arguments scheduled from December, 2015 to February, 2016. TransCanada will be submitting its proposal to the NEB by the end of 2015.

To set the stage for implementation of your platform commitments, it is essential that both the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain and Energy East review processes be halted immediately. Doing so will send a signal that your government is serious about following through on your commitments to:

  • Launch an immediate public review of Canada’s environmental assessment processes, and
  • In full partnership and consultation with First Nations, Inuit and Metis Peoples, undertake a full review of regulatory law, policies, and operational practices [to] ensure that the Crown is fully executing its consultation, accommodation, and consent obligations on project reviews and assessments, in accordance with its constitutional and international human rights obligations. These include Aboriginal and Treaty rights and the United Nations Declarations on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

We are looking forward to working with you and Indigenous Peoples to ensure this public review process is comprehensive and is conducted in an open, collaborative manner, informed by the best available scientific and Indigenous knowledge, in order to fix our broken regulatory regime.

A meaningful review of regulatory law, policies and operational practices should result in a regime that assesses all proposed projects and policies for their potential individual and cumulative impacts and positive contribution to sustainability. This would include reviewing upstream and downstream greenhouse gas emissions, enabling early, ongoing and meaningful public participation and ensuring the ability of Indigenous Peoples to exercise their decision making authority according to their respective laws and governance systems.

This review is also an opportunity to undo the damage done by your predecessor to our environmental laws, including but not limited to CEAA, the NEB Act, the Fisheries Act and Navigable Waters Protection Act.

Only after our broken review processes are fixed can credible reviews of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain and TransCanada Energy East pipelines be carried out.

Once built, energy infrastructure lasts a long time and comes to define the landscape we have to work within for decades. Therefore, the issues that are being debated in these reviews strike at the heart of the kind of future we envision for Canada. We see this as a moment to rebuild environmental laws in Canada, and to be bold and imaginative. We can be better than the past. We look forward to contributing to the dialogue about real change in Canada’s energy and climate strategies.

Once again, we respectfully request that you stop the Trans Mountain and Energy East reviews while these important national conversations take place.

Check out the full list of signatories here.

Under the Harper regime, Canada’s national energy strategy relied on the unbridled expansion of the tar sands. Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges says the strategy creates conditions that allow oil profiteers to “dig up the Alberta tar sands in an orgy of environmental degradation.”

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Obert Madondo is an Ottawa-based progressive blogger, and the founder and editor of The Canadian Progressive. Follow me on Twitter: @Obiemad

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Obert Madondo
Obert Madondo is an Ottawa-based blogger, activist, photographer, digital rights enthusiast, former political aide, and former international development administrator. Obert is the founder and editor of The Canadian Progressive and The Zimbabwean Progressive, both of which are independent political blogs dedicated to producing fearless, progressive, adversarial, unapologetic, and activism-oriented journalism situated right at the intersection of politics, technology and human rights. Follow Obert on Twitter: @Obiemad
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