It can get pretty overwhelming, seeing all these pipeline applications coming through. One gets the feeling that there’s no point in speaking out or getting involved, there’s so many of them and they always seem to get approved anyway, right?
Last December the Joint Review Process (JRP) panel announced their decision to approve the Northern Gateway pipeline application. I was active in the Joint Review Process, as a member of the Fort St James Sustainability Group. And since the JRP announced their decision a lot of people have asked me if it was worth participating in that process, given the end result.
Absolutely. And here’s why.
You have a say in any process that affects you, your family, and your community. Joe Oliver, the National Energy Board, the Harper government, all may try and intimidate you into not participating, but it is your democratic right to have a voice at the table.
Until the level of democracy in this country changes you have every right to direct involvement in any review process. If there is a resource project near your community, be it oil, LNG, or a mine, and there is a public review process, you have a right to be involved.
Companies like Enbridge, regulatory bodies like the National Energy Board, and governments forget that real people live, love, and work along pipeline routes, near mine sites.
They forget that the land they are planning to disrupt belongs not to them, but to others and is used by others for a whole bunch of reasons.
They talk to each other through their lawyers, and the voices and concerns of ordinary people aren’t heard. Me, I saw it as a duty to my community to be directly involved in the JRP process, to bring my voice and the voices of others to that table generally reserved for lawyers. It’s important to remind companies like Enbridge and Trans Mountain that their plans directly impact people’s lives, and it’s important for regulators like the BC Environmental Assessment Office and the NEB to hear the same message. And they only hear it if we bring it forward, because the companies aren’t going to do it for us.
Aren’t the processes flawed? Aren’t they skewed to the companies’ favour? You bet they are, and that likely will never change.
The National Energy Board, for example, is a captured regulator – oil money pays their bills. Tough to make an objective decision when Enbridge and others are paying your salary. I went into the JRP process knowing full well the process was flawed and that the outcome was likely going to be what it ended up being.
But I still felt it was crucial to bring how I felt about the potential for an oil spill into Stuart Lake to the attention of both Enbridge and the NEB. And the way I tried to do that was to point out the flaws in the Northern Gateway application, as a way of showing the NEB that while Enbridge was promising an iron-clad safe project, we were finding holes in their application that showed that perhaps it wasn’t as iron-clad or safe as they kept professing it to be.
I think we were successful on that front. I just think that the NEB didn’t care. That’s what happens when big oil pays your way.
So would I do it again? I already am. I am planning to be involved in the detailed route hearing should the Harper government approve Northern Gateway. And I am currently living in a community directly affected by the Kinder Morgan expansion. Close to sixty tankers a month will go by the community of Sooke should that project be approved – instead of the five a month that go by now.
So I have applied for intervenor status in that review process, once again, to make sure that Kinder Morgan and the NEB hear the concerns and voices of ordinary people as well as those of the lawyers.
I share the frustration of “Why bother getting involved when the regulators don’t listen?” I was disappointed to hear the JRP’s decision, but I wasn’t surprised.
If anything, it strengthened in me the need to continue to stress to regulators and companies that the voices of folks like us are just as important as the well-paid voices of those company lawyers.
And I strongly encourage you to do the same, whatever pipeline or mine or other resource project is staring you in the face, at a level you are comfortable with. It doesn’t have to be full-blown intervenor status, it can be as simple as writing a letter.
So I may be disappointed in the JRP’s decision, but one thing is for sure. I have the right to be at their review process tables, and my voice will be heard. I’m not done.