No one, especially the National Energy Board, expected the National Energy Board (NEB) to do anything but recommend approval of the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion. Its plan to once again go through the motions before a rubber stamp approval of the project was clear from the get go – especially since the only effort the NEB made in this new assessment of the marine impacts of the pipeline project was in its attempt to limit its scope constantly.
The NEB was forced to go back to the drawing board after a Federal Court of Appeals decision “quashing” the government's approval of the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion. The court found the NEB's initial report “flawed” in that it ignored the obvious marine impact of a seven times increase of oil tanker traffic, as well as a glaring lack of consultation with Indigenous nations.
It was Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who arbitrarily required the NEB finish its new assessment in 22 weeks, but it was the NEB who then went to work making sure they had as little real work to do as possible. They limited the review of marine impacts to only 22 kilometres off the coast, rather than the 370 km requested by scientists. They also refused to consider the obvious climate change impacts of the increase in Tar Sands oil production and usage, and they made their review process a confusing mess that arbitrarily allowed oral testimony from Indigenous nations while demanding others fax in submissions before hastily declared deadlines.
Worst Kept Secret
So when the February 22 deadline for the NEB to submit its report came around, no one was surprised that they once again recommended approval. What was somewhat surprising was their own admission that marine shipping related to the oil pipeline is likely to cause "significant adverse environmental effects" on the endangered Southern resident killer whale and Indigenous cultural use associated with the whale, and also that greenhouse gas emissions from marine vessels would "likely be significant."
Despite these admissions, the NEB declared that the pipeline was still in the non-defined “national interest” and issued 16 new non-binding recommendations which all begin with vague non-directions like: “Consider,” “Look at,” “Continue engagement” and “Seek feedback”. Useless!
In a joint news conference of Indigenous and environmental leaders, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip described the NEB recommendation as “a complete dog's breakfast," and emphasized that the Indigenous-led opposition which has so far stopped the pipeline would continue, "The gauntlet has been thrown down."
In an article in The Tyee magazine, journalist Andrew Nikiforuk quoted economist Robyn Allen, “The disconnect is huge. The board has now underestimated marine risks just to approve a project whose economic benefits don’t exist. And they approved a $5-billion project based on the 2015 calculations when in fact the project will likely cost closer to $10 billion. They deny the facts, the truth and the science.”
Which Side Are They On?
The NEB has been an open scandal for decades – a board of appointed mostly semi-retired energy industry executives and consultants who are somehow supposed to be impartial judges of energy project approvals is a pure dark comedy. Take a look at the three-person board for this past report; all were appointed by previous Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Alison Scott oversaw the initial flawed review of the pipeline. Lyne Mercier was forced to recuse herself from the 2016 review of the Energy East pipeline project after revelations that she was meeting privately with an industry representative. Murray Lyttle's NEB bio says he has “held a series of senior positions in the oil, gas and mining industries.”
The alarmingly cozy relationship between the government of Canada and corporations is also on full display as details emerge about the Prime Minister's attempt to pressure now former Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould into taking it easy on scandal ridden engineering and construction giant SNC Lavalin.
The plot thickens with every news cycle, but it's clear she was repeatedly pressured to give SNC Lavalin “deferred prosecution agreements” instead of continuing with full Federal charges against the corporation for bribing Libyan government officials with $48 million while defrauding Libyan organizations of another $130 million.
The harmless sounding “delayed prosecution agreements” are actually literal “get out of jail free” cards for corporations caught breaking laws. All the corporation has to do is admit to wrongdoing and commit to changing its behaviour. The justification given is usually that there are a lot of jobs at stake if the corporation is made to pay for its crimes. For his part, Trudeau also reminded Wilson-Raybould that SNC Lavalin is based in Quebec and that he will be up for re-election in that province.
These agreements are unfair and sketchy, to begin with, but SNC Lavalin has shown itself time and time again to be rotten to the core. It's already banned from World Bank projects for ten years due to corruption, and the short list of its other crimes includes admitting to huge illegal payments to political parties in Quebec and millions more in kickbacks to win a construction contract for a $1.3 billion hospital in Montreal.
Each time a scandal is uncovered, the CEO is changed, and the company promises “things will be different this time.” They've been asking for the same treatment this time, and Prime Minister Trudeau has been doing everything he can to give it to them.
The Trans Mountain Connection
Generally speaking, the connection between the SNC Lavalin and Trans Mountain scandals come down to the government of Canada giving special treatment to corporations at the public expense, but the specific connection goes even deeper.
Trudeau also chose retired Supreme Court Judge Frank Iacobucci to lead the supposedly new and improved consultation process with Indigenous nations. However, Mr. Iacobucci is also currently a lawyer representing SNC-Lavalin in its ongoing attempt to secure a plea deal and avoid a criminal conviction on the Libya corruption charges. So Mr. Iacobucci isn't exactly an aloof and impartial individual without connections to corrupt, corporate Canada. SNC Lavalin would also very likely be in the running to secure many construction contracts should the project go forward.
The Union of BC Indian Chiefs' Jody Wilson sent a letter to Iacobucci before a December 10, 2018 roundtable on consultations he hosted at Thompson River University in Kamloops, pointing out that he was selectively choosing which bands and chiefs to meet with.
Three members of the Secwepemc Nation, whose territory the pipeline would cross for hundreds of kilometres, were barred from attending that closed-door event. When they protested outside, they were arrested and charged with mischief. “What kind of consultation is this, if people are getting barred from going in and trying to hear what was being said?”
Charlene Aleck, an elected councillor from the Tsleil-Waututh Nation agreed, “I don’t see anything different [in] the way that they're operating and running their round of consultations and ideas for the communities or First Nations,” she said in an interview with National Observer.
Meanwhile, Natural Resource Minister Amarjeet Sohi, who is charged with overseeing the consultations, is already saying that the government is in a “very strong position” to finish consulting Indigenous nations within 90 days of the NEB report.
Ultimately it's clear these consultations are just another public relations manoeuvre, especially when PM Trudeau himself has already stated publicly “that the federal government stands by the TMX expansion project and will ensure it moves forward in the right way.”
Why does one more pipeline matter so much? Because we've very clearly reached a point where committing to decades more of extracting and burning some of the dirtiest energy possible is incompatible with the unfolding climate crisis.
Even investment bank Morgan Stanley admits that climate-related disasters have cost the world $650 billion over the last three years. They also see this damage increasing exponentially - acknowledging that damages associated with global warming could total $54 trillion by 2040, according to a United Nations panel composed of the world's top climate scientists. These costs will be from four main areas: sea-level rise, weather events, changes in agriculture and infectious disease.
That same United Nations panel found that we have 12 years to drastically reduce the world's CO2 emissions or face catastrophic and likely irreversible changes to the planet on which we depend.
Antagonists and Protagonists
That's what makes PM Trudeau, the NEB and the oil corporations attempt to push through this pipeline so criminal. They're trying to loot everything they can from a building they know is burning while leaving everyone else trapped inside.
Many of us were on the streets of Vancouver on February 22, 2019 protesting what we had known was going to be an inevitably heinous decision. Lacking was the sense of letdown that has accompanied previous NEB and government decisions in favour of the pipeline – despite the clear environmental, Indigenous rights and economic arguments against it. With every scandal, more and more people are coming to understand that the government of Canada always sides with corporate profits before the interests of Indigenous people, poor and working people and the planet. They also realize the best way to stop the pipeline and build a better world is to build a movement that represents our interests. The added urgency of the climate crisis is making this both more critical and more achievable.
System Change Not Climate Change!
Build Our Future, Not a Pipeline!
United for People & Planet!
Follow Thomas on Twitter: @thomasdavies59
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