Thursday, October 25, 2012
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“This protest wasn't just about Enbridge, or Kinder Morgan, or fracking, or even the tar sands. For the people there, the world hasn't made sense in some time. They've known something was wrong, but been unsure how to fix it. They are unsure no longer. A line has been crossed, a final straw snapped astride the proverbial Camel. We're mad as hell, and we're not going to take it anymore. Yesterday, people came together. They laughed and cried and screamed their rage to the skies. They found hope in each other, and let me tell you, once hope has been found, it's a fire which is not easy to extinguish.”
~ Ethan Cox, Rabble.ca
In this issue:
- Thousands of Canadians Participate in Historic Protests to Oppose Tar Sands Development
- Investors (and Canadians) Beware! Tar Sands a Risky Bet
- AFCN Launches Constitutional Challenge
- Shell’s Mine Expansion Proposal Pushes Tar Sands Impacts Past the Tipping Point
- Weakened Environmental Laws Give Tar Sands “Green Light”
- Government Panel Condemns Tar Sand-Driven Economic Agenda
- Opposition to Tar Sands Pipelines Grows In Maine
- Tar Sands Blockade Continues in East Texas
- B.C. Premier Warns Feds to Back Off Northern Gateway Approval
What a week! Protests and opposition against the tar sands and the pipelines that would ferry its dirty cargo anywhere and everywhere reached fever pitch all over North America.
Seniors, parents and their children, First Nations, politicians, movie stars, and yes, even environmentalists. In one of the largest single-day acts of civil disobedience ever held in Canada, five thousand people from various walks of life risked arrest by showing up on the front lawn of Victoria, B.C.’s legislature on Monday to oppose tar sands pipelines and supertankers. The Defend Our Coast protest was organized to give Canadians a chance to voice their displeasure about pipeline proposals meant to carry tar sands crude from Alberta to the B.C. ports, and then to foreign markets by supertankers ferrying the dangerous crude along B.C.’s wild West Coast.
“As soon as we decided we were willing to get arrested, we had already won,” read a blog post on the Defend Our Coast website. “Today was a victory for the people of BC, Canada and the world. And it was one more step we had to take in our on-going struggle to protect our planet today and for future generations.”
Shortly after 3 p.m., 500 defenders unveiled a 245 meter-long black fabric banner – the length of an aframax supertanker – that encircled the Legislature grounds. Staking the banner into the ground was the protestors’ first act of civil disobedience, and it was met with cheers and chanting as the hammers made their way down the line.
But the protests were about more than any one supertanker or pipeline. “We’re here for much bigger reasons than one pipeline,” read an October 22 blog post on the Defend Our Coast website. “We’re here because the Canadian tar sands are the most destructive industrial project on earth, and will be ‘game over for the climate’ according to NASA’s Jim Hansen. We are here because we’re tired of being bullied by the biggest, most profitable industry on earth, Big Oil. And we’re pushing back on the anti-environment, anti-democratic, dissent-crushing actions of Canada’s federal Conservative government.”
The next day, the Athabasca-Chipewyan First Nation (AFCN) held a pipe ceremony and rally in Fort McMurray, Ground Zero for the impacts of out-of-control tar sands development, as it asked the Joint Review Panel to deny Shell Canada’s application to expand its Jackpine Mine, because it interferes with their constitutional rights. The ACFN is asking that individuals, organizations and communities across Canada to stand in solidarity with them; so far, the Joint Review Panel and Shell Canada has received over 50,000 public comments from individuals and organizations across Canada and the United States.
On Wednesday, Defend Our Coast protests erupted in more than 60 communities all over B.C. and other parts of North America. Five hundred people turned out in Davis Bay on the Sunshine Coast, B.C. One hundred and twenty people protested In Bella Bella, almost 10 per cent of the town. Two hundred showed up in the BC Liberal stronghold of Penticton, and more than 100 in Nanaimo. In Vancouver, 350 people (and live CTV news coverage) gathered outside BC Premier Christy Clark's office.
In Montreal, protestors gathered outside the Hilton Hotel to support the Defend Our Coast movement, where representative of companies involved in fossil fuel projects in Quebec, the Maritimes and Alberta were gathering for the fourth annual conference of the Quebec Oil and Gas Association (APGQ) was being held.
Emma Gilchrist, communications director for Dogwood Initiative, pointed to how widespread the actions were. “From Kamloops and Kelowna to Fort St. James and Campbell River, British Columbians came out en masse today to remind their politicians who they are elected to represent,” Gilchrist said. “Politicians from coast to coast ought to take note that proposals to bring oil pipelines and tankers are politically toxic in every corner of B.C.”
More than 4,000 kilometres to the south, Cherri Foytlin, an indigenous South Louisiana mother of six and wife of a Gulf Coast oilfield worker, chained herself to the gate of a Keystone XL pipe yard, blocking pipe from being shipped to construction sites along the controversial pipeline’s route. Beside her hung a sign that read, “Defend All Coasts.” (LINK to article below.)
And on the Atlantic Coast, fierce opposition continues to mount on America’s Eastern Seaboard, where Enbridge hopes to pipe tar sands crude from Montreal to Portland, Maine. (LINK to article below.)
"It's time for citizens from all walks of life to take a stance," author and activist Tzeporah Berman told The Vancouver Observer by phone from the demonstration. "The fact that thousands are willing to take the day off to voice their concerns should signal to the people around this country to take notice that it's too risky and too dangerous to build the pipeline."
The Defend Our Coast protests blanketed the media in Canada and beyond: The Globe and Mail, CTV News, The Vancouver Sun, Global TV National, and almost every community newspaper in B.C. A Google search for Defend Our Coast uncovers 198 news stories across Canada and beyond.
The news of unrivaled Canadian protests against tar sands development even made the pages of The New York Times, where Ian Austen wrote that, “While opposition from environmentalists and some native groups was always expected, the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project has unexpectedly united British Columbians who normally are on opposite sides.” The Times also suggested that the Harper government’s strategy to attack tar sands and pipeline opponents as ignorant, hypocritical enemies of the state seems “to have backfired, prompting a debate about free speech and creating sympathy for pipeline opponents.”
Not surprisingly, #defendourcoast was the #1 Canadian trend in Twitter. “Big shout out to all the great folks demonstrating in Victoria 2day,” wrote best-selling Canadian author Naomi Klein, one of dozens of celebrities who lent their support for Defend Our Coast long before the protests even began. “Thanx for defending our coast from tankers!”
The scale and intensity of the protests may have been intensified by Enbridge’s refusal to guarantee that its proposed Northern Gateway pipeline wouldn’t leak more than your average pipeline.
A few days before the Victoria protest, at the JRP hearings for the Northern Gateway pipeline proposal, Enbridge declined to guarantee that Northern Gateway wouldn’t leak more than Enbridge’s average spill rate before Enbridge’s massive leak in Michigan’s Kalamazoo River. Northern Gateway already had admitted that the chance of a spill of any size was more than 70 per cent.
“Can Enbridge give this panel any guarantee that the Northern Gateway Pipeline will never leak?” asked Ecojustice lawyer Barry Robinson, who is representing Forest Ethics Advocacy, at the end of his cross-examination. Enbridge replied that while it did not believe a spill was inevitable, it could not guarantee one would never happen.
And so the protests rage on.
CLEANING UP DIRTY OIL
An international group of 49 ethical funds with investments in Alberta’s tar sands is concerned the industry’s environmental performance could be putting the controversial development, and those who invest in it, at risk.
“We recognize the economic significance of the resource,” the group said in a statement released Monday. “But (we) are concerned that the current approach to development, particularly the management of the environmental and social impacts, threatens the long-term viability of the oilsands as an investment.”
The funds include labour and church groups, such as the United Church of Canada and the Canadian Labour Congress. There are also public-sector pension funds from both sides of the border, as well as private funds from Canada, the U.S. and Europe. Together, they control about $2 trillion, some of which is invested in companies active in the tar sands. Their statement was co-ordinated and released by the Boston-based group Ceres, which works to advance environmental causes through the financial sector.
The statement maintains that the tar sands industry is not reducing its greenhouse gas emissions or its water use fast enough, and that they are concerned about on land reclamation liabilities and lawsuits from aboriginal groups.
“We’re certainly not claiming that the industry is ignoring these issues,” said Andrew Logan of Ceres. “What we’re saying is that we need to dramatically speed up the pace of innovation.”
It would appear these concerns, from people who are usually more concerned about the bottom line than environmental health, seem to have considerable merit, as the following stories attest.
The Athabasca-Chipewyan First Nation (AFCN) has asked the Joint Review Panel to deny Shell Canada’s application to expand its Jackpine Mine, because it interferes with the AFCN’s constitutional rights. Shell’s Jackpine Mine expansion proposal comes with extraordinary environmental impacts, largely because they are additional to what has already taken place.
On the first day of the JRP hearings, AFCN outlined why the panel should hear its legal challenge against Shell's application to expand its Jackpine Mine and tar sands project. The Alberta and Canadian governments and Shell argued the challenge should not be heard at all, while conservation organizations across North America, including Greenpeace, NRDC, Environmental Defence and Sierra Club of Canada, announced their firm support.
"We are here today because a legal challenge may be the only remaining piece of law that can stop the destruction of our land," said Allan Adam, chief of the ACFN. "We are thankful for the mountain of support we've been receiving. People understand the significance of this challenge and what we must do for our land."
As part of the hearings, the AFCN held a pipe ceremony and invited the public to rally behind the First Nation. Their legal challenge as filed argues that governments have failed to meaningfully address the overall impacts of development on ACFN's treaty rights and have failed to consider what ACFN requires in terms of land and resources to maintain their ability to exercise their rights now and into the future.
According to Shell’s environmental assessment, the additional impacts of the mine expansion would result in substantial loss of habitat for birds, woodland caribou, bison and other animals in the region. The assessment predicts that the impact of all development projects in the region, including the proposed Jackpine mine, would result in the loss of 40 to 60 per cent of the habitat for birds, 47 per cent of habitat critical to federally listed boreal caribou, 39 per cent of the habitat used by wood bison and significant swaths of forest important to fisher, lynx, wolverine, moose, beaver and black bear. It is these impacts, in part, that the AFCN feel will prevent them from continuing with their traditional hunting and gathering traditions that are guaranteed them under Treaty 8.
The Pembina Institute adds that Shell’s environmental assessment projects that 18 per cent (185,872 hectares) of the wetlands in the regional study area will be lost or altered as a result of the Jackpine mine expansion and other industrial activity. Air quality, too, is suffering. Shell’s environmental assessment shows nitrogen dioxide emissions (an air pollutant that has been linked to human respiratory problems) would exceed the legal air quality limits outlined in Alberta’s new Lower Athabasca Regional Plan by two to three times in some areas.
Meanwhile, the Harper government has tabled its second omnibus budget bill (C-45) in as many months, which continues the government’s program to dismantle Canada’s environmental protection laws. The Bill proposes replacing the Navigable Waters Protection Act (NWPA) with a weaker law that limits its scope to prescribed navigable waters, as opposed to all navigable waters, as is the case now. The NWPA is widely considered to have significant environmental value due to the fact that it preserves the intactness of our waterways by preserving navigation rights.
According to a Rabble.ca article posted on The First Perspective, the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation is one of several groups concerned about a watered down version of the NWPA. In a news release, the Chipewyan First Nation said that Shell Canada has proposed to "mine out" 21 kilometers of the Muskeg River, which the AFCN says, is a "river of cultural and biological significance."
The new navigable waters legislative change "gives the tar sands industry a green light to destroy vital waterways still used by our people," says Eriel Deranger, communications coordinator for the First Nation. Band Chief Allan Adam maintains that the government is "creating more loopholes for industry to continue annihilating our lands."
Author and activist Bill McKibben, who was in Alberta this week, told the Edmonton Journal that there’s no lack of technology to get us off our addiction to oil, just a “a lack of political will” to move away from a fossil-fuel based economy.
McKibben, who is the author of 15 books, including The End of Nature, has been fighting climate change for 25 years, decried the Harper government’s annihilation of Canada’s environmental laws, which is clearly an attempt to “make it harder to challenge bad practices by oil companies.”
Given the escalating impacts of the tar sands, the potential risks associated with a new network of tar sands pipelines, and the draconian dismantling of the laws that protect Canada’s land, water and wildlife, perhaps it should come as no surprise that the National Roundtable on the Environment and Economy’s (NRTEE) final report indicates that the Canadian economy will suffer because governments refuse to steer away from foolish energy and climate change policies.
The analysis, found in Framing the Future: Embracing the Low-Carbon Economy, concluded that goods and services promoting reductions in greenhouse gas emissions were part of a sector that's growing faster than the Canadian economy, and Canada’s refusal to acknowledge that the world is moving toward a post-carbon future puts the country’s economy at risk.
"Canada needs a low-carbon growth plan," said the report. "This is a basic conclusion of our analysis and of the feedback received from regional stakeholders. The reality is that Canada is unprepared to compete in a carbon-constrained world."
"The economic risks of inaction are too significant to ignore. For one, billions of dollars in Canadian exports could be subject to trade measures that penalize emissions-intensive industries and products. For another, our international reputation could suffer and with it the marketability of Canadian products and the ability of Canadian firms to invest abroad."
Is it any wonder that the Harper government recently eliminated NRTEE? Everyone seems to be telling Prime Minister Harper what he doesn’t want to hear. The more he ignores us, the larger and louder the protests will get.
CLEANING UP DIRTY PIPELINES
Why does Maine, the “I Lead” state almost 5000 kilometres from the tar sands, have to worry about Alberta’s dangerous and dirty oil? Because the spectre of pollution from the tar sands and the pipelines that would carry it’s dirty cargo seems to be spreading everywhere – including Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire.
Of particular concern is the Sebago Lake watershed in the Portland Water District, which enjoys crystal clean water that doesn’t require expensive filtration. As anti-Enbridge protestors descended on Victoria, B.C., a major port on the Pacific Coast, the National Energy Board posted Enbridge’s "pre-application filing" to reverse the flow of crude on Line 9B between Westover, ON and Montreal QC to an eastbound direction. This is part of an Enbridge plan to use the 71-year-old Portland Pipe Line to pump tar sands oil from Montreal, through Vermont and New Hampshire and western Maine, past Sebago Lake, and finally to tankers in Portland Harbor, on the Atlantic Coast.
“Tar sands oil could cause catastrophic damage to our water source. And it could destroy the lake's recreational benefits and southern Maine's economy,” wrote Gary Libby, a trustee of the Portland Water District, in the Portland Press Herald. “I oppose any attempt to modify the existing Portland-to-Montreal oil pipeline to transport Alberta tar sands oil through the Sebago Lake watershed, and I urge every one of the Portland Water District's customers to do the same.”
Libby encouraged people to sign a petition being circulated by the Natural Resources Council of Maine to demand a "full environmental review of any tar sands pipeline proposal, and to ensure that a through public input opportunity is a mandatory part of the decision-making process." He also suggested readers could sign the Sierra Club's online Maine petition (action.sierraclub.org) urging Enbridge "to drop this risky and dangerous proposal."
Meanwhile, in East Texas, the month-long rebellion against TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline continues. Cherri Foytlin, an indigenous South Louisiana mother of six and wife of a Gulf Coast oilfield worker, blocked pipe from leaving the pipe yard by chaining herself to a gate decorated with a sign that read “Defend All Coasts.”
“This pipeline is a project of death,” Foytlin said. “From destructive tar sands development that destroys indigenous sovereignty and health at the route’s start to the toxic emissions that will lay further burden on environmental justice communities along the Gulf of Mexico, this pipeline not only disproportionately affects indigenous communities, but it’s clear that it will bring death and disease to all in its path.”
According to Tar Sands Blockade, Foytlin was threatened with – wait for it – Felony Use of a Criminal Instrument, because shed used chains and locks as part of her act of civil disobedience. Foytlin, who walked 1,243 miles from New Orleans to Washington D.C. in Spring of 2011 to stop the BP drilling disaster, was eventually charged with Class A Misdemeanor Criminal Trespass of a Habitation/Shelter/Superfund/Infrastructure and released on $2,500 bail. Her courageous solo protest marks the 32nd arrest since Tar Sands Blockade’s actions began, and the 31st day of sustained protest at its Winnsboro tree blockade.
“Conservatives believe government is too big, that they are choking out our freedoms,” Foytlin said. “The Occupy Movement believes corporations have kidnapped those same rights in the pursuit of profit over humanity. I believe both groups are right, and this pipeline and the use of eminent domain by a foreign company to seize and lay claim to American land, aided by the silence of the government, is an epic example of those truths.”
If protestors at Defend Our Coast are true to their word, this is what Enbridge and the federal government can expect to happen if tar sands pipeline proposals in B.C. are approved. Many of the protestors said they were willing to "risk arrest" by "lying in front of bulldozers" to prevent construction.
Meanwhile, back in B.C., Premier Christy Clark was sounding a lot like tar sands blockader Cherri Foytlin. Clark told The Globe and Mail that any move by Ottawa to green-light the Northern Gateway pipeline over British Columbia’s objections would ignite a national political crisis. Clark said that if Ottawa wants to play hardball, it could use the federal power of disallowance to override provincial opposition. Disallowance gives the federal government the power to unilaterally revoke provincial statutes.
“The thing is,” she said, as if she were chained to a gate in East Texas, “this project can only go ahead if it has the social licence to do so. It can only get the social licence from the citizens of British Columbia. And that’s what I’m representing as Premier.”
Given the protests in B.C. and elsewhere against all things tar sands, Clark would do well to call the Northern Gateway and Kinder-Morgan pipelines dead on arrival and give herself a chance to win another election.
The Dirt is a weekly round-up of the latest news, events and commentary from tar sands and pipeline campaigns aimed at creating a clean energy future.