January, 2013

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A sad prediction

Friday, January 18th, 2013

As I mentioned in my speech at the Enbridge Northern Gateway hearings, I doubt that any of our efforts will have any effect.

I am utterly convinced that even if the Joint Review Panel decides that the project should not be allowed at all, the Stephen Harper Government will bully its way ahead anyway.

The Conservatives have stacked the deck of cards. In their patently undemocratic omnibus bills, they have changed many laws that would have once protected us from such fantastical and sinister projects, rendering them toothless. This project is going to go ahead no matter how bad this looks. After all, who really cares, right?

The thing is, Harper really has this wrong.

I foresee a War in the Woods the likes of which Canada has never seen. Survey pegs will disappear in the middle of the night. Trees by the thousands will be spiked. Equipment will be vandalized. Lives will be threatened and some, I fear, will even be lost.

The police will become involved, not as peacekeepers but rather as enforcers of Harper’s heinous laws and when they fail to achieve the goal that Enbridge wants, the military will be brought in as re-inforcements.

There will be ambushes on both sides. Harper will wish he had kept the long-arm registry.

Armed helicopters will patrol the surveyed right-of-way during the surveying, construction and subsequent operation of the line. It won’t be martial law but it will get pretty damned close in parts of this province that is supposed to be “True North Strong and Free”.

Hundreds will go to jail. Thousands will be vilified by Harper’s allies. Millions will be involved, one way or another.

British Columbians, fresh from an unprecedented fight over the HST are not shy to another fight to remind our governments that they work for us. The entire Enbridge fiasco, combined with any one of the myriad of sleights that British Columbians have had to deal with from the Conservative government has the potential of bringing us together in ways never seen before.

The solidarity against this project is only going to grow stronger and British Columbian’s resolve to stop this folly is only going to become more entrenched.

Do not be surprised if there is even a move made to have British Columbia secede from the Canadian confederation over this issue.

It’s extreme and it’s not pretty.

But unless we see a change in approach, I’m sorry to say it’s my sad prediction.

Tales from the Hearing

Friday, January 18th, 2013

Enbridge-ConversationIt has been a couple of day since I made my presentation before the Enbridge Northern Gateway hearings and I thought I’d share my impressions of what happened to you.

I figure I probably should since there was almost no way for you, the public, to know.

As a presenter scheduled to speak on Tuesday afternoon starting at 1:30, I reported to the 4th floor of the Sheraton Wall Centre Hotel by about 1:10. When I got there, one of the hearings officials was already in the middle of her presentation to tell us what to expect when we went into the hearings room.

I listened to the presentation and then signed in.

The first group of three speakers was called and they were shuffled off to another room on the 4th floor and we sat in our holding room and watched them enter and sit down in front of the panel. The camera angle looked over the shoulders of the representatives of the ‘applicant’, with the panel sitting to the left and the presenters sitting to the right facing them.

The Chair of the panel would welcome the three speakers and then ask the first to speak. When the speaker was finished, there was no comment, nothing more than a cursory “Thank you” and then the next speaker was invited to begin.

Once the third speaker had concluded, they were shuffled out of the room (not to return to our holding room) and the next three who had been called during the presentation of the last speaker of the previous group, were shuffled in and the whole play began anew.

I sat there, watching the big-screen TV displaying the goings-on in the hearing room and was deeply moved by what some of the other speakers had to say.

One was an engineer who spoke passionately about the engineering, the science and the chemistry behind this stuff benignly called “bitumen”. “Once the condensate evaporates after the accident, it’s basically asphalt without the sand”, he said. In his younger years, he remembered working for a firm that used bitumen in this form to patch roads.

Another was a photographer who chose to speak about two different types of albatrosses. It turns out that she encountered them on the Midway Atoll, but reminded us that they matter because while they nest half-way to Japan, they forage for food in the Douglas Channel.

Another was a lawyer who, if I recall, in a previous life, was a chemical engineer. She talked about how there is so much missing in the hearings, in the science, in the planning- and she was utterly astounded by how third-world-ish our environmental hearings are compared to what she encountered in Chile, Argentina and elsewhere in the supposedly less civilized world than ours.

And then there were those who spoke of close personal ties to the region. They spoke of swimming and drinking the beautiful, sweet waters of the Kitimat River. They recalled seeing humpback whales at the very docks that the tankers would be docking. Others contrasted the wonders of nature with the hazards of avalanches, of potential leaks under 30 feet of snow, of emergencies where helicopters can’t fly in because of the bad weather.

Others spoke of the hazards of navigating not only the Douglas Channel (one quipped that they were impressed by the hubris of Enbridge and its plan to remove all the islands of Douglas Channel- he just wondered where it was going to get the money to do all that work!) but the challenges of the Hecate Strait and the Dixon Entrance- both classified as some of the most dangerous navigable ocean waters in the world.

Meanwhile, I watched what the Enbridge representatives were doing. Sometimes there were two people at the table. Sometimes only one. Sometimes it was a woman, sometimes not. They clearly weren’t really interested in what was being said; they were there because the “applicant” had to be present. That’s all.

During these passionate speeches (all excellently presented, by the way), I watched Enbridge representatives type emails on their Blackberries, fiddle with their iPads and on occasion, check their watches. They looked like teenagers in detention- or else well on their way to being on detention, sitting at the back of the room like caged animals yearning to be doing better things than listen to these endless speeches.

It truly must have been terribly tedious for them. All they want is a goddamned pipeline. All they want is to provide the conduit for billions of barrels of ‘bitumen’ and ‘condensate (read billions of dollars into their shareholder’s pockets and their little take for their childrens’ retirements). To be forced to listen to all these people drone on about the environment, about the disasters which have been designed out of the proposal, about personal ties to the land, about oil tankers and their shortcomings when they really did have better things to do like, say, golf in Palm Springs. Poor things.

It is ironic that while I was sitting in the holding pen on the 4th floor of the Sheraton Wall Centre Hotel, I found in Tuesday’s issue of the Vancouver Sun on page A8 an advertisement from Enbridge’s Executive Vice President, Janet Holder, expounding on the economic benefits (spun so tightly it was self-evident in the ad that the benefits were dubious) and inviting a conversation after we ‘dug deeper‘ to see just how great this project is.

At 5:20 it was finally my turn along with two others and just as all the others were, we where staged just outside the hearings room, two VPD officers and a couple of security-types milling about the front door. When the previous three speakers were done, the door was opened and they filed out. We shuffled into our allocated seats and, just as with the others, briefly welcomed, and then instructed to begin.

So I launched into my speech, (see my previous blog entry below for the text) and ensured that no Enbridge representative was going to fiddle with his Blackberry or iPad while I spoke.

I’ll give the panel members credit: they actually listened. They actually took notes. Brief ones but hey- it was a C+ / B- performance. The truants at the back of the class? They may not have taken any notes but at least when it was time to nail them with the Truth, they were like deer in the headlights.

I was allocated 10 minutes. Because of two very small insertions into my speech, including a reference to the image of the air quality in Beijing in the very same issue of the Vancouver Sun as the ad, I ran overtime. I still had three sentences to go when I was cut off and ‘asked’ to give them one more sentence.

So I did. “We do not inherit the Earth from our parents; we borrow it from our children,” is what I closed with. And with that, the panel was on to the next speaker.

Twenty minutes later we were lead out of the room and after collecting our coats we took to the elevator and headed back out onto Burrard Street and on with our lives.

But I’m happy to smirk that I have one small footnote: I went up to the panelists and shook their hands. And then, like the smiling opponent I know I am, I went up to the Enbridge representatives and held out my hand. The first took my hand and shook it knowing that it was part of the show.

But the other one I know I got under his skin. Sitting there, he looked up at me standing with my hand extended. He looked at me in the eye and then looked at my hand. I could see disgust flash across his face- he really didn’t want to shake my hand- and then reluctantly, very reluctantly, he shook my hand extended in front of his face for over five seconds- but there was no eye contact.

I got you right between the eyes, Mr Enbridge Representative. You may get your pipeline, but I got your conscience.

After digging deeper, just as your Executive Vice-President invited me to do, I did my part. I said my piece and you didn’t like it one bit. Welcome to the conversation.  Enjoy it now, because for you, it’s only going to get worse.

Speech to the Northern Gateway Environmental Panel

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

Brian RevelToday I will be speaking before the Enbridge Northern Gateway Environmental Panel at the Sheraton Wall Hotel.

Below is the text of my 10-minute speech. Not much allowance for breathing but I’ll do my best to get it all in.

As always, I welcome your comments.

* * * * *

We have all heard the fable of the Goose that Laid the Golden Egg. Welcome to Enbridge Northern Gateway project. Welcome to the conversation that decides whether Canada is going to sacrifice Canada’s pristine coastal rainforest and grasslands of its Interior Plateau to sell its oil to China.

Members of the Board, before I begin my substantive points, I’d like to start by talking about two gorillas that are here sitting in this room.

First, I have serious reservations regarding this consultative process: It feels like these hearings are being treated as a necessary evil to get the public out of the way so the government and business agenda can go ahead regardless. The sterility of these public hearings has alienated the people from the process. And that, I am sorry to say undermines your credibility and weakens your authority.

The second gorilla is the fact that the people of British Columbia, including aboriginal peoples, are sovereign. Irrespective of your decision, opposition to this project is widespread. Battle hardened War in the Woods activists are ready. And the general population, fresh from standing up to our own provincial government that ran roughshod over us by imposing the HST, is not shy to another fight to remind our government that it works for us. Not only are British Columbians sovereign on their territory, there is strong solidarity and cohesion amongst otherwise disparate groups. I would strongly suggest to this panel that it heed the implications behind these facts.

Enough of the gorillas.

The purpose of these public hearings is to take the public interest into account.

Public Interest is defined as what is in the interest of the population.

Lets start with the population’s environmental interest:

The Honourable Peter Kent, Minister of the Environment has said that Canadians need to make more of an effort to minimize Greenhouse Gas emissions. At best, Canadians will only be able to achieve this goal at the margin. What good is it for 30-sum-odd million Canadians to switch to energy-efficient light bulbs and take transit whenever they can when we’re about to sell literally billions of barrels of oil to the billion-strong China over whom we have no jurisdiction to regulate?

How about the population’s economic interest:

The Honourable Jim Flaherty, Minister of Finance and others including Mark Carney at the Bank of Canada and economists at the Conference Board of Canada have all stated that we need to improve our productivity and become more innovative. And herein lies another contradiction: building pipelines and sending unprocessed bitumen overseas is not innovative. It’s just more of the same hewing of wood, drawing of water and, may I add, sucking of oil, that we have always done.

More immediately, why are we even considering selling our oil to a foreign country when we are still importing oil from Venezuela and elsewhere? Why isn’t Canadian oil being sent across Canada first?

What makes equally little sense is that there are people here in Vancouver who unknowingly purchase gas at local gas stations that is refined at Cherry Point, Washington.

Further, this region is facing a similar debate over tankers ferrying jet fuel from Cherry Point. So I ask this to you, the face of the environmental conscience of the entire energy industrial complex this country: What kind of insanity might you be thinking about perpetuating here?

Then there is the population’s political interest:

I know that there are people who share grave reservations about trading with the United States. Regardless of their concerns, I don’t understand why our federal government is so intent on getting this deal done with the Chinese. Yes, the Americans are down right now, their economy is in tatters. But they won’t be down forever.

And given a choice of the two giants I’d rather invest in, I’d rather be feathering my bed with the Americans. For all their faults, American values are much closer to ours. Their government is much more transparent and much more democratic.

Now I’d like to take a quick look at the project and the company that proposes it:

I am very wary of Enbridge. It seems to me that it comes across as a shifty card dealer in a shady casino. Everything it has done thus far has been a public relations exercise aimed to placate the population.

After being called out for pretending the Douglas Channel was a simple fjord, Enbridge says it will have ships with the most modern navigation equipment.

Do the people at Enbridge realize that by just saying that they will have ships with the most modern navigation equipment they insult Canadians’ intelligence?

A couple of cases in point: One year ago the day before yesterday the Costa Concordia ran aground.

Also the day before yesterday, the final chapter in the sinking of BC Ferries’ Queen of the North opened with the trial of Navigation Officer Karl Lilgert. The ship was the pride of the fleet. Sailed by British Columbians every day of their long careers in their home waters, it still managed to run aground.

And most recently, on December 9th, the MV Cape Apricot, bulk carrier smashed through the docks here at the Robert’s Bank Coal Terminal.

Notably, it was the first such accident in 8,300 simple dockings over 42 years. An otherwise ‘excellent’ safety record. 42 years without a ‘single’ incident. Would that be good enough for Enbridge? Methinks that for Enbridge it would be.

Sadly, for the environment, one single navigation error, one tiny hiccup in a very elaborate and complex network of systems and interfaces between temperamental technology and human fallibility and we will have a disaster that will change the course of history on this coast forever. I am not convinced. In 42 years the chance of a marine disaster involving the Northern Gateway project is almost 100%.

Never mind the inevitable questions about environmental impact during the construction, what about the grossly negligent management of their extant pipelines? Between 2000 and 2010 alone, some 132,715 barrels of oil- about 1/2 the capacity of the Exxon Valdez- have leaked from Enbridge lines.

What about the federal government’s commitment to BC?

Meanwhile, just as these environmental challenges mount, the federal government has closed all of its western offices established to deal with oil spills that happen in federal jurisdictions. It’s showing its cards on the water too.

The Coast Guard is closing down its one and only station in Vancouver, reducing it to a summer-student project. In short, the presence and the relevance of the federal government to actually deal with any potential trouble has been cut- leaving British Columbians to fend for themselves- yet again- if something goes wrong.

To close

I sense these hearings are all a charade, no matter how well intentioned you as committee members may be. I fear for your reputations as I believe the Harper government is setting you up to be stooges. Sadly, even if you do recommend that this project not proceed, your recommendations will be swept aside and the project will go ahead as planned. To great detriment.

Our democratic process using public hearings will be discredited not just by the government but worse, by the population.

Our economy will be steered off-track because we will be ploughing our future into oil and pipelines rather than innovation and higher productivity.

Our environment will see significant destruction, one way or another, as there will be localized destruction to the coastal rain forests and high grasslands during its construction.

There will be leaks- inadvertent, accidental, one-in-a-million, but inevitable- leaks that will enter into our pristine watersheds and destroy salmon runs and hence entire eco-systems for generations to come.

We will see a further increase in greenhouse gasses. Even if Canadians stopped driving altogether, lived out the long cold winters sitting, shivering away in the dark- and even stopped raising cattle that fart in the fields, supplying bitumen to China is going to make the greenhouse gases that originate in Canada worse no matter what we do here in Canada.

And finally, British Columbians, sovereign on their land, do not want this project. Period.

And so as we look toward the abyss that follows your decision, I recall Aesop’s Fable, The Goose that laid the Golden Egg.

Keeping the moral of this fable in mind, you will know the risks associated with Enbridge Northern Gateway project far outweigh the potential benefits. I urge the panel to reject this proposal outright.

We do not inherit the Earth from our forefathers; rather we borrow it from our children.”

* * * * *

Useful links:

I would like to thank the Westcoast Environmental Law Society for alerting people about the public hearings. This has been a very long and drawn out process where I had to register about this time last year to be able to speak. Because of their forethought, I have this opportunity to speak at the hearings. I only wish that the general public could attend as well, rather than be shut out of the process using closed-circuit television.

What can I say? Apart from the fact that our own government is trying to stifle dissent and conversation, there’s not much else to say. I just hope my efforts and the efforts of those others who are speaking to the panel don’t go ignored as well.