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After Energy East, stop Kinder Morgan

Jesse McLaren

October 11, 2017

Amidst widespread climate disasters, a ray of hope: the Energy East pipeline, which threatened to pump more than a million barrels of oil a day, adding hundreds of millions of tons of carbon to the atmosphere each year, is dead. Last week TransCanada announced to the National Energy Board that it was withdrawing its application for the pipeline.

This is a defeat for oil companies and their federal and provincial government supporters, and a victory for the climate justice movement. It can energize the fight against other tar sands pipelines like Kinder Morgan and Keystone XL, and raise hopes about a transition to a sustainable world.

Business decision’ or climate justice victory

Reading the mainstream press headlines you wouldn’t know this was a victory for the climate justice movement. According to the Globe & Mail, “Donald Trump killed the Energy East pipeline” by reviving the Keystone XL pipeline, while the Toronto Star claimed the pipeline was “killed by the markets.” Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr called the canceling of the project a “business decision.” But it was neither the invisible hand of the markets nor the small hands of Donald Trump that forced this decision.

Neither was the decision purely technical. TransCanada withdrew its application after the National Energy Board announced it would consider upsteam and downstream climate impact. But this climate test was a product of the climate movement. The NEB has rubber stamped many a polluting pipeline, and it was only under pressure that they expanded their criteria—which was a sign that Energy East was leaking support. As The Financial Post predicted a couple of months ago, “Energy East is not likely to get done, primarily due to the social opposition to the pipeline in Ontario and more so in Quebec…We can’t see the Liberals fighting against Quebec firstly and Ontario secondly on Energy East, especially if Keystone XL and Trans Mountain expansion proceed, or even if they don’t.”

While pipeline opposition is strong in Quebec, it is not contained there as tar sands proponents and Quebec bashers like to claim. As Dallas Goldtooth from the Indigenous Environmental Network explained, the climate justice movement runs coast to coast, led by Indigenous communities across Canada and Quebec: “Today’s announcement supports the validity and strength of an Indigenous rights-based approach to win these battles. All along the Energy East pipeline route First Nations took a stand to defend their inherent rights, protect their water and Mother Earth and resist the colonial actions of Canada and its oil regime.”

The parties of Bay Street

When Harper failed to ram through unpopular pipelines, Trudeau opted for another tactic: lip service to Indigenous right and environmental protection, while continuing the same policies. So he went to the Paris climate conference but continued to subsidize tar sands, undermining the climate goals. He promised to support the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) but then chose Kinder Morgan over Indigenous rights. The defeat of Energy East shows that Trudeau’s rhetoric is not working to appease the climate justice movement.

In response the Tories—from federal leader Lisa Raitt, to Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall, to the Tory opposition in Alberta—are accusing the Liberals of betraying the oil companies. But the Liberals are reassuring Bay Street they can be trusted, as Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr explained: “our government has approved two major export pipelines that are now under construction, and a third is expected to start soon. The Trans Mountain [Kinder Morgan] expansion and Line 3 projects alone represent over $11.6 billion in investment.” That Trudeau supported Kinder Morgan, without climate considerations and against the wishes of local First Nations, shows his true colours.

NDP contradictions

Now would be a great time for the NDP to embrace the climate justice victory and correct its past mistakes. The Orange Wave of 2015 collapsed when Mulcair embraced “balanced budgets” and refused to campaign on climate justice. While NDP candidate Linda McQuaig accurately said that tar sands must stay in the ground to meet climate emissions, the party leadership marginalized these views. Instead Mulcair nonsensically counterposed opposition to tar sands on the west—like Northern Gateway and Kinder Morgan—with support for called Energy East. As a result there was no climate justice party to vote for, and Trudeau’s rhetoric prevailed.

Since then, Mulcair has been ousted, NDP activists have pushed a discussion of the Leap Manifesto, and Jagmeet Singh has been elected party leader a platform that better reflects the climate justice movement: “we must oppose the proposed expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline and the building of the Energy East pipeline. Not only does significantly increasing oil production and international oil exports through these projects undermine our efforts to reduce our emissions, but it conflicts with UNDRIP. Canada need to commit to UNDRIP and this means saying no to the Kinder Morgan and Energy East pipeline projects.”

But so far the new party leader has not spoke out in support of the victory against Energy East, and the loudest NDP voice is that of Alberta Premier Rachel Notley saying she is “deeply disappointed” by the canceled project—ignoring Indigenous communities who are fighting at ground zero of tar sands, and the growing number of workers across Alberta demanding climate job alternatives. For example, the group Reclaiming Alberta’s Future Today (RAFT) is showing how many good jobs could be created by cleaning up old oil infrastructure. As they explain, “Implementing RAFT would shift Alberta away from its reliance on fossil fuel production and launch a new reclamation boom in Alberta…Healing the land through reclamation can also begin to rebalance the scales of justice with Indigenous communities in the province.”

A world beyond oil

After stopping the Northern Gateway pipeline, the climate justice movement has stopped Energy East. This can give momentum to stop Trump and Trudeau’s other pipelines—from Kinder Morgan going west, Dakota Access and Keystone XL going south, and Line 3 and Line 9 going east. If Energy East failed the NEB’s climate test, then so does Kinder Morgan. But the ultimate climate test is clear from the increasing unnatural disasters—flooding Bangladesh, wiping out power to Puerto Rico, and depopulating Barbuda—showing the urgency of challenging the unsustainable system driving these unsustainable pipelines.

As Kanehsatà:ke activist Ellen Gabriel explained, “This is a victory owed to all Indigenous peoples and civil society groups dedicated to a healthy and prosperous environment for present and future generations. This should be seen not solely as a victory, but an opportunity to rethink capitalism and how sustainable energy is not only more economical, but creates a more promising legacy for present and future generations; a future in which it is clear that our human rights are interrelated and intertwined with the rights of Mother Earth and all our relations."

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