We will soon see whether the federal government's officials are really listening to people in BC in their review of the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines and tankers project.
The federal government's Joint Review Panel, conducting the environmental assessment of the Enbridge project, rolled into Prince George on September 8. So did 400 protesters, but more on that in a moment. The Panel held hearings to listen to people's suggestions as to what issues the environmental assessment ought to cover, whether any pieces are missing from Enbridge's monster-sized application for approval of the project, and where the Panel should hold its hearings. The previous preliminary hearings were held in Whitecourt, Alberta, and also in Kitimat (which had a packed house for the hearing and a big demonstration outside).
I (Josh Paterson) was in town and attended the Prince George hearing on behalf of West Coast Environmental Law. There were many groups present asking tough questions, like PG grassroots group Sea to Sands Conservation Alliance, as well as provincial organizations like Friends of Wild Salmon, Living Oceans Society, ForestEthics and Raincoast Conservation Foundation. You can check out the transcripts here.
In addition, a number of representatives from First Nations from across northern BC spoke to the Panel about how this project will harm their peoples. Many spoke about the need for the Panel to expand its scope to consider the upstream impacts of the pipeline in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and water, land, air and health impacts of tar sands developments. Others spoke of the need to consider the cumulative impacts of doing away with the longstanding policy ban on oil tankers on the north coast. West Coast was happy to provide legal support and summary advice to a number of individuals and groups that made submissions.
Inside and outside the hearing, many First Nations sent the message that the federal Joint Review Panel process is inadequate and does not respect their constitutionally-protected title and rights. And almost all nations present made one message perfectly clear: international law requires Canada to obtain their free, prior and informed consent in order to go ahead with this pipeline and tanker project - and they say no.
About 400 people, including people from First Nations as far as seven hours away on the coast, and people from communities in northern Alberta downstream of the tar sands, joined a march through downtown Prince George. The march culminated in a big rally outside the Joint Review Panel hearing, organized by the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council. Leader after leader spoke about how they have not been included as decision-makers by the government, and how they are unwilling to risk their people's health, and that of their lands and waters, to the inevitable oil spills that this project will bring. In the last month, Enbridge has had 2 highly publicized pipeline oil spills in Michigan and Illinois - making the company's claims of near total pipeline safety difficult to swallow for many people.
Now the Panel will deliberate and decide what issues, if any, to add to their consideration of the project's impacts, and whether Enbridge's application package is sufficient. Even the federal government itself (each of the Departments of Health, Natural Resources, Fisheries and Oceans, Indian and Northern Affairs, Environment and Transport) made a submission that the application has many gaps and inadequacies. Hopefully the Panel will listen and will add a range of issues to their plate that may enable them to make a better and more informed decision. For now, we have to wait to see.
By Josh Paterson
of the Enbridge protest.
My own video of the Prince George protest.