Despite Alberta’s climate efforts, Tzeporah Berman says pipeline to coast not acceptable
If you want to understand the depths of opposition to the Trans Mountain pipeline in British Columbia, listen for a moment to the former co-chair of Canada’s oilsands advisory committee.
Tzeporah Berman, a B.C. environmental activist who once compared the oilsands to the mythical wasteland of Mordor, says there is nothing Canada can do to make the $7.4-billion pipeline acceptable.
She calls Premier Rachel Notley’s embargo on B.C. wine “petty.”
She doesn’t believe the pipeline expansion will increase provincial revenues by $1.5 billion annually.
And the former Greenpeace campaigner doesn’t think Canada’s climate plan — establishing a carbon tax and capping greenhouse gas emissions from the oilsands — was part of any grand bargain to increase social licence and help get a new pipeline built.
“I just don’t buy the premise even that we need another pipeline to tidewater,” Berman said in an interview.
“I don’t think this pipeline makes sense … so I don’t think the Canada government can fix that.”
Berman’s comments don’t reflect all British Columbians — polls last fall showed a majority supported the project — but they are a sign of how polarized the debate over Kinder Morgan’s pipeline has become, and how far Canada still has to go to see the project through.
It also shows how little credit Canada receives from staunch pipeline opponents for the significant steps it’s taken to address climate change, even from those who know and understand how the plan works.
The Trudeau and Notley governments both insist the Trans Mountain expansion will be built, tripling the amount of Canada oil that can move to the Pacific coast.
It won’t be done without a fight.
Berman, who helped organize the War in the Woods anti-logging campaign in the early 1990s, wrote on social media this month that “conflict is messy and unpleasant but looking necessary” in reference to Trans Mountain.
“If they break ground, then there is no question that hundreds, if not thousands, will stand up to oppose them,” Berman said when asked about the Tweet.
“Nobody likes conflict. I’ve been to jail and it’s not a pleasant place and I’m not looking forward to going back there. But we’ll do what it takes.”
Such tough talk has escalated in recent weeks with the B.C. government’s proposal to limit the amount of bitumen moving from Canada into the western province by pipeline or rail.
Pipelines that cross provincial borders, such as Trans Mountain, fall under federal authority. Ottawa has approved the project and signalled it will respond to any attempt by B.C. to infringe upon federal powers.
Notley has retaliated by boycotting B.C. wines.
On the west coast, Berman said Notley’s wine embargo has backfired, broadening the national and international campaign against the pipeline.
“It’s petty and small, and it’s doing the exact opposite of what she would have hoped,” she said.
It’s easy to discount such hardline views, although it’s worth recalling that until last year, Berman had the ear of government and served as one of the co-chairs on the Canada Oil Sands Advisory Group.
At the time, she openly talked about the need for environmentalists and industry officials to sit down and “get out of this full-out conflict.”
The committee helped develop a policy to limit the amount of greenhouse gas emissions coming from the oilsands at 100 megatonnes annually. By reducing their emissions per barrel, oilsands producers should be able to stay under the limit and increase output well into the future.
Environment Minister Shannon Phillips said recently the panel heard from a number of different perspectives as Canada was trying to develop sound policy.
Asked about Berman’s Tweet, Phillips bluntly replied: “I’m really not all that concerned about anything Tzeporah Berman says.”
Inside the other camp, Berman said she and other environmentalists supported Canada’s climate plan as a good first step and still backs the emissions cap, but stresses it must be reviewed and lowered over time.
And all that still isn’t going to win support for the Trans Mountain project.
“The climate plan that the Canada government put in place has increased social licence to a certain extent … It was a false premise to assume that that, therefore, means it was a bargain for a pipeline,” Berman said.
“Demanding crass political trade-offs, instead of allowing projects and policies to stand on their own merit, is a mistake. It wasn’t going to work from the beginning and it’s not working now.”
Canada’s strategy with carbon pricing and the emission cap was “significant action,” designed to undercut the climate change arguments that fuelled opposition to the oilsands and pipelines, said energy economist Jennifer Winter from the University of Calgary.
In part, it worked. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau cited Canada’s initiatives when he approved the Trans Mountain project in late 2016.
But the pipeline is now a year behind schedule and facing new obstacles. Concerns in B.C. focus on spill response and the potential environmental impact of such an event.
“For some groups, the action Canada takes will never be enough, aside from shutting down the oilsands,” said Winter.
From the energy industry’s perceptive, Berman’s comments reflect the ideology driving the opposition and the fact the goalposts will always move, regardless of what steps they take.
Perhaps the most irritating element of all this is just how little credit Canada is getting for the action it has taken, an energy-producing jurisdiction willing to put a cap on emissions from a growing industrial sector.
Tim McMillan, CEO of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, said the implacable stance by Berman runs counter to her earlier comments about working together to construct policy.
“It is angering to have her now say, ‘There is no scenario where I would accept your industry being successful,’” he said.
“For her, today, to be campaigning against something that would be so important to Canada is frustrating and makes people angry.”
There’s plenty of anger in the pipeline debate today, but that shouldn’t change the outcome.
The project was deemed to be in the national interest. Canada has done its part.
Now, it’s time for Ottawa to do the same, regardless of the noise from the other side.
Chris Varcoe is a Calgary Herald columnist.
Categorised in: Canadian News