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Ministerial Panel on Kinder Morgan Pipeline Actually Nails It

Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline proposal cannot proceed without a serious reassessment of its impacts on climate change commitments, indigenous rights and marine mammal safety.

That was the conclusion of the “Report from the Ministerial Panel for the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project,” released to the public on Nov. 3 by the three members of the self-described “omissions panel” that was formed to make up for perceived flaws in the National Energy Board review process.

“Surprisingly, I think it did do its job,” says Patrick DeRochie, climate and energy program manager at Environmental Defence.

“It’s kind of the icing on the cake of a fatally flawed Kinder Morgan review process. It shows the social, environmental and economic rationale for approving this pipeline simply doesn’t exist. The only viable option coming from this report is the rejection of Kinder Morgan by the federal government.”

The report — produced by the trio of Kim Baird, Annette Trimbee and Tony Penikett — was the culmination of 44 public meetings conducted during the summer, which included 650 direct presentations and 35,259 responses to an associated online questionnaire.

It was published on the same day that Kinder Morgan Canada president Ian Anderson appeared to question climate change by stating: “I’ve read the science on both sides and don’t pretend to be smart enough to know which is right.”

Review Panel Criticized For Lack of Clear Mandate, Hastily Organized Meetings

Critics had suggested the “review of the review” lacked a clear mandate, repeating the flaws of the original NEB process.

Such alleged faults included a lack of clarity on how the cabinet would use the report, a failure to conduct proper outreach to key participants including municipal and First Nations leaders, a lack of proper note taking and an alleged conflict of interest due to Baird’s previous business relationship with Kinder Morgan.

“And yet, their report reinforced what we’ve been hearing from British Columbians about this project,” Sierra Club BC campaigns director Caitlyn Vernon says. “How do you do this in the face of First Nations opposition and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. You don’t. How do you do this in the face of Canada’s climate change commitments? You don’t.”

Report Pointed Out Major Concerns About Climate Change, Spills, Killer Whales

The 58-page report, submitted on Nov. 1 to Minister of Natural Resources Jim Carr, outlined concerns about the potential impacts of the new pipeline on upstream greenhouse gas emissions, oil spills, reconciliation with indigenous peoples and the endangered southern resident killer whales; it noted that “as the panel moved west, opposition increased markedly.”

It concluded by posing six incisive questions to cabinet, including “can construction of a new Trans Mountain Pipeline be reconciled with Canada’s climate change commitments?” and “how might Cabinet square approval of the Trans Mountain Pipeline with its commitment to reconciliation with First Nations and to the UNDRIP principles of ‘free, prior, and informed consent’?”

“The part that gave me real delight was the six questions that they framed, and seeing that, rather than attempting to gloss over or evade the issues, they addressed them square on,” says Karen Wristen, executive director of Living Oceans.

Trudeau Promised Review of Environmental Assessments Would Include Kinder Morgan

During the federal election, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that the “modernization” of the National Energy Board and Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency “applies to existing projects, existing pipelines as well.” In addition, the Liberal platform pledged to “restore robust oversight and thorough environmental assessments of areas under federal jurisdiction.”

Yet the National Energy Board recommended a conditional approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline — which would triple the amount of oil flowing to Vancouver — relying on the same processes that were implemented by former Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party.

That review didn’t include an assessment of upstream greenhouse emissions associated with the new pipeline or impacts on marine environments, and denied intervenor or commenter status to over 460 people. Serious concerns have been raised by indigenous communities including Tsleil-Waututh Nation and Squamish Nation over the quality and scope of consultations.

The review panel was formed as an ad-hoc substitute.

Vernon emphasizes the panel “did not remedy the flaws of the original NEB process.”

‘If Cabinet Takes the Questions Seriously, There’s No Way This Pipeline Can Be Built.’

The federal cabinet must issue its final verdict on the project by Dec. 19. Recent reports indicate Trudeau is leaning toward an approval.

Carr has suggested the new review panel will lend “credibility” to the environmental assessment process. However, there’s no clear understanding of if and how the report will be used by cabinet as it isn’t legally binding.

DeRochie says the review asked “key questions about the fundamental future of this country [that] have not been answered yet,” noting that his organization has been calling for a suspension of the process until the National Energy Board and Canadian Environmental Assessment Act have been “modernized” as promised.

He also emphasizes the conversation isn’t just about British Columbia, but pertains to national issues around credible review processes, commitments to reconciliation and the future of pipelines in Canada.

It appears that this review panel’s report will be the final assessment conducted prior to cabinet’s verdict. Many agree it poses questions that undermine the possibility of the Trans Mountain pipeline in its current form.

“If cabinet doesn’t take these questions seriously, approving this project would be abandoning any commitment to climate action, abandoning a commitment to reconciliation with indigenous peoples, imposing a death sentence on the endangered killer whale and inviting the economic and ecological disaster,” Vernon says.

“If cabinet takes the questions seriously, there’s no way this pipeline can be built.”

Image: Justin Trudeau via Prime Minister’s Photo Gallery

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Investigating stories others aren’t. Diving deep to find solutions to the climate crisis. Sending journalists to report from remote locations for days and sometimes weeks on end. These are the core tenets of what we do here at The Narwhal. It’s also the kind of work that takes time and resources to pull off.

That might sound obvious, but it’s far from reality in many shrinking and cash-strapped Canadian newsrooms. So what’s The Narwhal’s secret sauce? Thousands of members like John who support our non-profit, ad-free journalism by giving whatever they can afford each month (or year).

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