A small town is northeastern Ontario has become the centre of attention in the Energy East pipeline debate for accepting a $30,000 donation from TransCanada while agreeing not to publicly comment on the pipeline company’s operations for the next five years.
“The Town of Mattawa will not comment publicly on TransCanada’s operations or business projects,” states the agreement between TransCanada, Canada’s second largest pipeline company, and the Town of Mattawa. The agreement is valid for five years.
“The clause reads like a gag order,” Sabrina Bowman, climate campaigner for Environmental Defence Canada, says.
“It makes me wonder how many donations by pipeline companies to other municipalities across Canada have been given on condition of silence,” Bowman told DeSmog Canada.
TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline, the largest oil pipeline project in North America, will pass near the town of 2,000 people. If approved by the federal government, the 4,600 kilometre pipeline will ship 1.1 million barrels of oil and oilsands products from Alberta to Saint John, N.B.
This is not the first time a pipeline company has made a cash donation to a Canadian municipality on a proposed pipeline route. Enbridge, Canada’s largest pipeline company, was criticized last year by pipeline opponents for making donations ranging from $6,000 to $44,000 to over a dozen municipalities along the Line 9 pipeline’s route in Ontario and Quebec.
But the Mattawa-TransCanada agreement appears to be the first known case to include an explicit condition that the municipality receiving the donation will not publicly speak out the operations of a pipeline company.
“While there are many examples of pipeline companies making donations, this is the first time I’ve seen a no-comment clause attached to the donation,” Bowman says. She played a major role in the campaign against Enbridge’s Line 9 pipeline last year.
Mattawa mayor Dean Becker and TransCanada last week defended the donation, which will be put toward the purchase of a new rescue vehicle for the town. Becker insists he “didn’t sell out the community for $30,000” and TransCanada claims the no-comment provision is only in the agreement so communities do not feel “obligated to make public comments on our behalf about projects.”
Critics of the Energy East pipeline project remain concerned donation agreements like this will stifle public participation in the public hearings on the pipeline expected to take place in 2015.
“I think this case is a clear indication that pipeline companies are not interested in genuine open dialogue and discussing local concerns. It absolutely puts yet another boundary in front of democratic participation in the already public participation-discouraging National Energy Board process,” Bowman says.
The National Energy Board, Canada’s energy regulator, has already come under fire for its list of issues it will consider when deciding on the Energy East project. The list indicates the Board will not hear public comments on the project’s impacts on climate change, the expansion of the oilsands or the impact on First Nations communities living downstream from the oilsands when making its decision on the pipeline. All comments from the public in regards to the upstream and downstream economic benefits of Energy East will be heard though.
“It is inconsistent, improper, and to a certain extent, hypocritical to consider the upstream and downstream economic and commercial impacts of a pipeline — which should definitely be considered — and then ignore the upstream and downstream environmental impacts,” Jason MacLean, an assistant professor of law, and specialist in environmental law, at Lakehead University, told DeSmog Canada in a interview last May.
The National Energy Board has also been accused of “acting impermissibly in favour” of Energy East by releasing the list of issues before TransCanada has actually applied for the project. The pipeline company is expected to submit its application with the Board next month. The list of issues was made public last May.
Image Credit: TransCanada, Wikipedia