BC government's sneaky non-rejection of Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline

Environmentalists across the country rejoiced at the news that the BC government formally opposed the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline. But reading the 99-page submission, it becomes clear that the door for the controversial oil sands pipeline remains wide open. 

(Page 4 of 4)

What is so ironic about introducing this case, and the Supreme Court’s clear support of the precautionary principle with respect to pesticide use, is that this same BC government last year flatly refused to commit to doing what Hudson did a dozen years ago, and limit the use of “cosmetic” pesticides for “precautionary” reasons – despite the fact that the Supreme Court of Canada stated, in its 2001 decision, that there was “a good argument that the precautionary principle is a principle of customary international law".

Massive industry pressure works differently in different times and places, it would seem.

One final example of how the province excoriates the embattled Enbridge position centres on the latter’s promise of a “world class capability” for cleaning up an ocean oil spill. Enbridge’s Northern Gateway team say they are committed to clearing 36,000 cubic metres of oil in 10 days.

But right next door, in Alaska, the standard for oil clean-up is 47,000 cubic metres in 72 hours.

As the authors of the BC government brief drily point out: “If Northern Gateway claims to be "world-class", it should be required to adopt a standard which is no less stringent than that of northern British Columbia's closest neighbour.” (Section 124, Page 39)

“World-class”, in this context, sounds like little more than public relations.

 

What is left unsaid in the final submission 

Let’s turn now to what the province’s submission the JRP doesn’t say.

As I pointed out at the beginning of this piece, the government is clear that it does not oppose this project per se. It leaves out any outright suggestion that it might not happen.

Probably that position would alienate the very corporate sector that the provincial Liberals so assiduously court, and that so firmly supports and even funds their activities. 

The submission is also almost completely silent with reference to First Nations’ interventions and participation in the JRP hearings, devoting only one small section to this aspect. However in this one small section it does make a big concession. It quietly acknowledges that First Nations’ interventions have had a had a major influence on its position, admitting that “…the Province has relied for its submissions on pipeline and marine issues on much of the evidence produced as a result of these interventions.” (Section 152, Page 49)

Quite a turnaround, for a province that has, by and large, been very difficult for First Nations’ communities to deal with.

The biggest omission by far from the BC government submission, however, is any reference to the underlying problems of the tar sands themselves. There is no mention of the “dirty”nature of Alberta bitumen – the widespread associated pollution and massive consumption of energy and water involved in its extraction – and of its ultimate problem, the huge impact exploiting the tar sands will have on global climate change.

But should that come as a surprise? The BC Liberal Party is closely tied to the federal Conservative Party under Stephen Harper, and both in turn are supported by and closely aligned with the global fossil fuel industry, All three are a hair’s-breadth away from being outright global climate change deniers; they’ve just learned to talk about the subject recently, but they resolutely refuse to act as if it mattered.

Christy Clark’s campaign was constructed around another fossil fuel, natural gas, which is mostly made of methane, a very potent greenhouse gas and inducer of global climate change. She may have turned her back, ever so slightly, on the export of bitumen from the Tar Sands, but she’s tied her political future to the production of natural gas, which has just been revealed, in a ground-breaking and independent study, to be as “dirty” as coal. If she’s going to try and make natural gas “work”, increasingly difficult though that will be, it is to her benefit to ignore global climate change. She needs to act as if the only issue is “jobs, growth and long-term prosperity” – at least until the bubble bursts and the energy industry is compelled to pull back from the brink of runaway temperature increase.

Demanding money back

When I was about 13, I went to the PNE, and stood entranced by a man hawking pens that would write under water. His patter and manner were engaging, and his arguments why this pen was the best in the world and something everyone should have one utterly convincing. So I bought one.

But then I tried to write with it, and it didn’t work that well. And it suddenly dawned on me that writing under water was something I’d never needed, wanted or even tried to do.

So I stood up, my heart in my mouth, and said I wanted to return the pen and get my money back. The hawker gave me remarkably short shrift – just grimly handed my money back and dismissed me.

Enbridge and Stephen Harper have tried to sell us the tar sands. Christy Clark has come out of the closet and acknowledged that there are big problems with the jewel in the crown of pipelines designed to make the tar sands work.

But it’s going to be up to the rest of us to stand up and demand our money back.

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