Pipeline News: Kitimat, First Nations Reject Northern Gateway; the Government Downgrades Protection for Humpback Whales

The Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline has encountered new road blocks as communities voice renewed opposition to the project. In Kitimat, residents voted against the pipeline by 60% in a non-binding plebiscite on April 19th. Kitimat might stand to gain the most if the project proceeds, with a promise from Enbridge to bring 180 permanent jobs to the community in addition to indirect opportunities for local contractors and suppliers. The day before the vote, four First Nations from the Yinka Dene, just west of Kitimat, expressed their official opposition to Northern Gateway in a meeting with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, the National Energy Board, and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. The Yinka Dene have already gathered 160 B.C. First Nations behind a petition against the project. Other communities that have previously stated their opposition include Terrace, Prince Rupert, and Smithers.

See “Kitimat Residents Vote ‘No’ in Pipeline Plebiscite” from The Globe and Mail at: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/kitimat-residents-vote-in-northern-gateway-oil-pipeline-plebiscite/article17949815/, “Does Kitimat’s Vote Matter?” In The Tyee at: http://thetyee.ca/News/2014/04/12/Kitimat-Northern-Gateway-Vote/, and “Four Dene clans officially reject Northern Gateway pipeline” from The Globe and Mail at: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/four-dene-clans-officially-reject-northern-gateway-pipeline/article17948468/.

See https://workandclimatechangereport.org/2014/01/28/northern-gateway-headed-to-court-as-neb-approval-provokes-criticism-of-review-process/ for background on the current lawsuits against the Northern Gateway project by First Nations and environmental groups.

Meanwhile, on April 22nd, Environment Canada has recommended that the humpback whale be reclassified, from “threatened” to “species of special concern” under the Species At Risk Act. This would remove legal protection for humpback habitat (which happens to include the British Columbia coast where oil tanker traffic would increase if Northern Gateway is approved, and is part of the basis of a lawsuit launched by EcoJustice and others). See the CBC report at: http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/humpback-whale-losing-threatened-status-amid-northern-gateway-concerns-1.2617633.

Northern Gateway Headed to Court as NEB Approval Provokes Criticism of Review Process

On December 19th, the National Energy Board granted conditional approval to the controversial Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, citing 209 conditions.The federal NDP and Green parties criticized the decision, while some opponents of the pipeline allege the joint review panel itself has been “undemocratic” and has undermined the integrity of the environmental review process in general, echoing an August 2013 lawsuit in which NGO ForestEthics claimed NEB public participation rules were unconstitutional. A series of at least 10 lawsuits has been launched in response to the NEB approval, notably one by B.C. Nature and one by a coalition of NGOs including EcoJustice, ForestEthics, Living Oceans Society, and Rainforest Conservation Foundation. The environmental groups allege the Joint Review Panel (JRP) final report contains serious legal and scientific gaps, such as uncertainty regarding geohazards along the pipeline route and the behaviour of spilled bitumen in marine environments. They claim the JRP also failed to address legal obligations to the humpback whale and caribou populations whose habitats lie in the pipeline path, both of which are protected under the Species at Risk Act.

Three First Nations, Gitxaala, Git’gat, and Haisla, have launched lawsuits of their own calling for federal review of the NEB decision. They claim their unique constitutional rights regarding development on their lands were also neglected during the review process.

Read the press release from EcoJustice on their lawsuit at: http://www.ecojustice.ca/media-centre/press-releases/environmental-groups-launch-lawsuit-over-flawed-northern-gateway-report. CBC coverage of lawsuits from environmental groups is available at: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/northern-gateway-pipeline-report-draws-lawsuit-1.2501051; coverage of First Nations lawsuits is available at: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/gitga-at-northern-gateway-lawsuit-joins-9-other-challenges-1.2507155.

According to West Coast Environmental Law, Enbridge may be experiencing difficulty attracting investment to the project in light of persistent opposition. See: NEB’s Thumbs Up Ignores Wall of Opposition that will Stop Enbridge (Jan. 16) is at: http://wcel.org/resources/environmental-law-alert/neb%E2%80%99s-thumbs-ignores-wall-opposition-will-stop-enbridge.