Canada’s interprovincial pipeline regulator, the National Energy Board has issued a disappointing ruling granting Trans Mountain Pipeline ULC access to the Burnaby Mountain Conservation Area.
The National Energy Board is arguing that federal paramountcy overrides the rights of the City of Burnaby to run its own bylaws in relation to this proposal. The real question is does this deal with federal rights or instead the rights of oil pipeline companies to run pipelines wherever they want without sufficient oversight and public input. Oil pipeline companies regularly argue for their rights while municipalities and their citizens are expected to accommodate these rights. If municipalities do not cooperate, the oil pipeline companies can now rely on the federal regulator to force concessions from these cities. This is not good for democracy or the rights of citizens.
The National Energy Board has argued that this is an expansion of an existing pipeline. The reality in Burnaby is that 90% of the pipeline proposal goes through new land. This means that the city is more divided with a network of pipelines that it has no control over and that places all of the power in the hands of a pipeline company. That is not acceptable in this city as it should not be elsewhere in the country.
The Board has failed to address the use of public lands in Burnaby by residents of the city. Its ruling focuses exclusively on the City and its staff. How does the board protect the safety of people using this conservation area and park? Is it assigning this important role over to a private company with little experience in this area? The City and its staff are far more qualified to deal with issues of safety in the park and conservation area.
Next, who determines the extent of damage that the proponent can commit in the park and conservation area? Why is a conservation area which has been exclusively set up for conservation purposes and which serves valuable ecological and climate change benefits being subjected to these actions? Why has the board given the proponent the ability to conduct invasive activity in the conservation area until next summer? Who is the company accountable to in terms of damage and who defines this damage?
What are the solutions? The board could have provided an oral hearing prior to this decision in either Burnaby of Vancouver instead of Calgary as requested by the City of Burnaby and agreed to by Trans Mountain. The board could have permitted presentations by the City of Vancouver, Metro Vancouver, the City of Abbotsford and Township of Langley as requested by these jurisdictions. The panel could have visited the Burnaby Mountain Conservation Area to see why people value it. And finally, the board could have permitted greater numbers of intervenors into its general process for it to get the broadest perspective on this proposal.
As a resident living close to Trans Mountain's alternative route I am deeply conflicted by this process. The company is running expensive advertising campaigns inside British Columbia rather then addressing the concerns of residents along its proposed expansion.
Also, to Canadians, do we accept the rapid expansion of bitumen extraction at any social and environmental cost or do we preserve this as a valuable resource for future generations? This issue does not have to be about the economy versus the environment but in order to build trust the process must be based on science and facts. This means that climate science must be one component in this discussion.