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Pipeline Opponent Sees Fossil Subsidies Campaign as Latest Front Against Trans Mountain

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A new campaign against the fossil fuel subsidies on which projects like the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion depend is just the latest front in a fight against the pipeline that is far from over, writes Robert Hackett, professor emeritus of communications at Simon Fraser University and co-director of NewsWatch Canada, in an opinion piece for National Observer.

“The Trudeau government and the petrobloc (the fossil fuel industries and their political, financial, and media allies) would like you to believe that the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline (TMX), intended to triple the flow of diluted bitumen from the Athabasca Sands to the port of Vancouver, is a done deal,” he writes. “But the latest approval of TMX by the Trudeau government and the industry-friendly National Energy Board does not settle the issue.”

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Hackett cites multiple remaining obstacles to the project: significant legal challenges from six affected First Nations, litigation to defend critically endangered southern resident orcas, British Columbia’s court case for jurisdiction over bitumen transport within the province, the “Indigenous-led, grassroots place-based resistance” against the project, and the prospect that the federal election this fall will shift the balance of power to two opposition parties—the Greens and the New Democrats—that oppose the pipeline.

While some arguments against the project may carry little weight outside B.C., Hackett points to the overpaid [2], C$4.4-billion purchase price for the project and the $9 to $12 billion [3] it will take to complete it as issues that should capture the attention of every taxpayer.

“B.C. residents in the sacrifice zones of the pipeline project know of its local, regional, and global environmental risks, from tank farm fires [4], pipeline rupture, oil tanker spills and orca deaths, to intensified planetary heating,” he writes. “These concerns didn’t always resonate with Canadians elsewhere, facing economic insecurity and public service cutbacks.”

But “the federal government’s 2018 purchase of the pipeline has added an enormous new risk to Canadian taxpayers. While the petrobloc touts TMX as a route to economic prosperity, taxpayers may see more pain than gain.”

Hackett sees the continuing challenge to Trans Mountain emerging on three fronts: political calls for a Green New Deal and a fossil fuel phaseout, economically through the campaign against fossil subsidies, and symbolically as opponents shift a definition of the “national interest” that puts pipelines and fossil development at the centre.

“The petro-nationalist definition of Canada, as implicitly an extractivist entity that treats the world’s atmosphere as a dumping ground, is being challenged by an aspirational vision of what Canada could be,” he writes. “That vision celebrates Canada’s many progressive achievements, from Medicare to multiculturalism, but also acknowledges its secret history of violence to workers, Indigenous peoples, and the land that colonialism and extractivism have entailed.”

The alternative, articulated by Simon Fraser communications professor Shane Gunster, is to build a country “more in keeping with the values of democracy, equality, justice, diversity, compassion, and sustainability—values that so many Canadians continue to hold as the true measure of who we are and what we do.”