In Canada, led by First Nations, opposition grows to extra-risky pipeline

Environmental and First Nation activists rally against Kinder Morgan on Burnaby Mountain. PHOTO: Mark Klotz on Flickr
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First Nations in Canada and the United States are in the forefront of opposing the Trans Mountain pipeline — in courts, in the streets, and on the waters. Energy giant Kinder Morgan wants to build a second pipeline alongside the 65-year-old, 700-mile-long existing one. This would triple the volume of tar sands oil running through indigenous lands from Alberta to British Columbia and Washington state refineries and ports. British Columbia province has refused to allow the project to proceed.

Resistance across borders. Protest camps like the Place-to-Watch-From structure at the gate of the pipelines’ termination near Burnaby, B.C., have been built and occupied by the Tsleil-Waututh Nation. They call on all First Nations to join in the fight, labeling it the Standing Rock of the North. The Secwepemc Nation is building tiny houses to block the path through their traditional lands. Seventy-three percent of the City of Burnaby’s residents support this fight.

The British Columbia provincial government and First Nations are united with environmental groups — Greenpeace, Friends of the San Juans, Olympic Climate Action, Students for the Salish Sea, and others. U.S. tribes, including the Lummi, Suquamish, Tulalip and Swinomish, have battled since 2014 to stop the expansion. Several cities including Vancouver and Burnaby, B.C. officially oppose it. Kayaktivists in Seattle, Washington took to their waters, while others erected tepees to shut down traffic and were arrested for occupying a bank building lobby.

Environmental and indigenous activists vow to stand in front of the bulldozers even if arrested. Over 200 have already been charged and their trials began in June. Nine have already been convicted. Nevertheless, the protests and lawsuits have already obstructed permits and construction so much that Kinder Morgan was ready to give up the expansion as “untenable” and “too risky” unless they were guaranteed the permits.

Environmental ruin. Alberta tar sands produce a sticky, gummy, tar-like crude oil. It’s almost impossible to clean up spills. Usually, only 15 percent is recovered from the ocean floor. Expanded pipelines to British Columbia and Washington State refineries will increase the amount of oil traveling from 300,000 to 890,000 gallons per day. This will make Trans Mountain Pipeline the largest and most dangerous oil channel in North America.

Toxic chemical wastewater from fracking used to extract the oil in Alberta has left the Lubicon-Cree Nation unable to drink water from local streams or harvest medicines and berries from their traditional lands. It further threatens crucial caribou habitat on Fort Nelson First Nation lands.

Traffic through coastal waters would increase by seven times, from five tankers per month to 34. A spill would threaten fisheries on the west coasts of Canada and the U.S. and wipe out feeding grounds and breeding areas in the Salish Sea — the indigenous name for Puget Sound and British Columbia coastal waters.

Trudeau bails out Texas billionaire. In May, Prime Minister Trudeau’s government decided to spend $4.5 billion, Canadian, in public funds to buy the aging pipeline and its Puget Sound branch line. It will create billions more public debt to bail out Texas billionaire Richard Kinder so that he can build the new line. Trudeau hopes his federal powers can override B.C. Province’s rejection of the project.

Trudeau claims to be working with Kinder Morgan to find a third-party buyer to purchase and operate the Trans Mountain. He has even proposed that Canadian public workers’ pension funds buy it! Meanwhile, Kinder Morgan rolls in profit from constructing the expansion and pockets billions in cash from the sale of the old line.

No giving up. Building on the militancy and broad collaboration of Standing Rock’s battle in South Dakota, this Pacific Northwest, cross-border campaign is on the move. Trudeau’s May purchase decision brought out over 5,000 protesters in Vancouver, B.C., outraged at Trudeau’s broken promises to work with First Nations and for a cleaner environment.

This collaboration, if joined by unions and social justice movements from both countries, could stop Trans Mountain and other pipelines, save precious natural resources, and halt the theft of public funds. It’s about Planet Earth and its dependents.

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