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What Trudeau’s Ocean Protection Plan Means for This Controversial BC Pipeline

Trudeau's plan woos BC premier, who put conditions on TransMountain pipeline.

by Hilary Beaumont
Nov 8 2016, 8:05pm

The diesel spilled off Bella Bella near the Great Bear Rainforest. Photo via the Heiltsuk Nation

Justin Trudeau's announcement of a national Oceans Protection Plan ahead of the December deadline for Kinder Morgan's TransMountain pipeline from Alberta to British Columbia's coast is stoking fears from environmentalists that the Prime Minister is in a pipeline-approving mood.

In Vancouver on Monday, Trudeau pledged $1.5 billion over five years for a "world-leading marine safety system" to protect Canada's coastline. Among other things, the plan includes better regulations for marine protection, expansion of the Canadian Coast Guard's role in responding to marine incidents, and new Indigenous Community Response Teams in BC.

It also, crucially, partly addresses conditions BC Premier Christy Clark put on her support of the Kinder Morgan pipeline, making the project more politically palatable. Trudeau has made it clear he intends to approve a pipeline that carries Alberta crude oil to international markets, and TransMountain, which has sparked mass protests in Burnaby, remains one of the favourites.

"I have to say I have no cause for complaint with what we've seen today," the premier told reporters in reaction to the announcement.

The province had asked for three heavy rescue tugboats, and the plan states two large towing vessels will be leased—however it doesn't say those would be for BC.

Environmentalists are reading between the lines.

"[Trudeau's announcement] is clearly a step that allows Christy Clark to say this has met one of her five conditions, but it does nothing to address concerns of those opposed to it, including climate change and Indigenous opposition," Cam Fenton, 350.org's Canadian Tarsands Campaign Manager, told VICE News.

"Certainly they are attempting to [garner political support] through these types of announcements, which are certainly improvements, but in no way diminish or get rid of the risk of a major spill or a major disaster," Eugene Kung, lawyer with West Coast Environmental Law, told VICE News.

"Unfortunately no matter how much money you throw at this problem it won't make diluted bitumen float."

Monday's announcement came weeks after a tugboat ran aground and sank, spilling diesel off Bella Bella near the Great Bear Rainforest—an incident Trudeau called "unacceptable". It also follows a two-year push from the Haida Nation for a ban on tankers along the Pacific northwest coast.

Related story: The Town That Hates Pipelines—How Canada's Energy Future Hit a Wall in Burnaby

Haida Nation President Peter Lantin is cautiously optimistic about the Oceans Protection Plan.

"We have pressed hard to have the federal government wake up to our reality," Lantin said in a press release. "We pressed the issue in 2014 and made little progress, but under Prime Minister Trudeau we have seen movement."

But Lantin continued to call for "a full moratorium on tanker traffic" on the BC coast, which Trudeau promised during the 2015 election campaign. Transport Minister Marc Garneau has said that announcement should come by the end of the year.

On Sunday, a boat towing a barge loaded with gravel and sand flipped and spilled its load north of Bella Bella, forcing one of the ships that was responding to the Nathan E. Stewart diesel spill weeks ago to leave and respond to the new spill instead.

In May, the National Energy Board approved TransMountain with 157 conditions, including that Kinder Morgan would have to offset greenhouse gas emissions from the project's construction. The board found the pipeline would have negative effects from increased tanker traffic, but because 90 percent of the pipeline expansion would follow an existing route, it wouldn't create too much environmental disturbance.

A final decision on the pipeline is expected by December 19, although the government could extend that time limit.

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