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U.S. Tribes In Canadian Court Opposing Massive Pipeline Expansion North Of The Border

(Tessica Truang is on the right. Kathleen Yang is on the left.)
Bellamy Pailthorp
Screenshot of students from Simon Frasier Univeristy in British Columbia, Testifying before Canada's National Energy Board on Friday January 21, 2016. The hearing was broadcast via the web (link in copy of story below.)

Opposition to the proposed expansion of a pipeline in Canada took center stage Friday in British Columbia.

Canada’s National Energy Board heard testimony from several parties, including a Seattle lawyer representing four Washington state tribes. None of the parties scheduled to go before the board on Friday morning were in favor of the project.

Kristen Boyles, with the U.S. firm Earthjustice, urged the panel of judges to reject the pipeline. 

“For the United States tribes, who have lived on this land since time immemorial, but are not part of this decision and are not part of the discussion that has led up to it, save for their own intervention here, this project is all risk and no reward.” Boyles said.

The TransMountain Pipeline would carry up to 890-thousand barrels of crude a day from Alberta to the Vancouver area, nearly triple its current capacity.  The company in charge was not immediately available for comment Friday, but its backers have said previously that the $5.4 billion expansion can be done in a way that it minimizes impact on the environment, addresses social impacts and provides many economic benefits. 

It would carry oil from Alberta's oil sands to the Vancouver area to be loaded on to barges and tankers for Asian and U.S. markets. The project would dramatically increase the number of oil tankers that ply Washington state waters.

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The treaty rights of the Swinomish, Tulalip, Suquamish and Lummi Indian Nations formed a central argument in the hotel room in Burnaby on Friday  —  and highlighted the increased risk of oil spills. Boyles said she was presenting a pale echo of testimony previously submitted by tribal elders. Among their concerns is potential harm to endangered species such as salmon and orca whales. Losing those species could decimate their cultures. Boyles also said Canadian environmental law lags far behind Washington state’s, where tugs and an entire branch of the state Department of Ecology stand at the ready. Boyles said this is because of the history of a state that is host to 5 refineries, all located in northern Puget Sound.

Also in Burnaby on Friday were students from Simon Frasier University, which sits on a hill above oil tanks at the end of the pipeline. Student Body representative Kathleen Yang expressed concerns that students and faculty could be trapped in the event of a fire or boilover.

“There are thousands of us, that commute every day – every morning and every night. And sometimes we wonder, what if something happens? What will happen to us?”

Yang testified alongside Tesicca Truong, who said she represents an environmental group at the school. Both told the panel the student body feels disenfranchised by the process of the Canadian government, which makes it difficult for them to understand how they can make comments that will actually be heard or have any effect.   

“So, as we speak, there are SFU students outside this room, in the rain, here, demonstrating peacefully,”  Truong said.

The students also said their concerns are related to the fact that the company building the pipeline has not cooperated with the university on emergency planning for evacuations.

They added that they were upset the company is not factoring in climate science indicating the damage done by the pipeline could go beyond its immediate effects. Much like opponents of the Gateway Pacific Cherry Point export terminal near Bellingham, they say they would like the longer-term effects to to be factored in, on things like air pollution and ocean acidification .

They said the 60-year-old design to locate tank farms near their campus, which is "on the mountain" near the hotel where the hearing took place, is outdated and dangerous.

The energy board is scheduled to make its recommendations on the pipeline expansion by May 20, then it must be approved or rejected by Prime Minister Trudeau.

The Canadian Energy Board is comparable to FEMA in the United States, according to some observers. 

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to