Canada’s Federal Court of Appeals has rejected the government’s approval to triple the capacity of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline in a major victory for indigenous groups and environmentalists. On Thursday, Justice Eleanor Dawson nullified licensing for the $7.4 billion project and brought construction to a halt until the National Energy Board and the federal government complete court-ordered fixes. Her ruling cited inadequate consultations with indigenous peoples affected by the project, and found the National Energy Board’s assessment of the expansion was so flawed that the federal Cabinet should not have relied on it during the approval process. Just minutes after the court’s decision, Kinder Morgan’s shareholders agreed to sell the existing pipeline and the expansion project to the federal government for $4.5 billion. Prime Minister Trudeau had announced in May that Canada would purchase the pipeline. This means the government now owns the project as its expansion faces years of further review. We speak with Winona LaDuke, Native American activist and executive director of the group Honor the Earth, and Eriel Deranger, founder and executive director of the group Indigenous Climate Action.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: In a major victory for indigenous groups and environmentalists, Canada’s Federal Court of Appeals has rejected the government’s approval to triple the capacity of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline. On Thursday, Justice Eleanor Dawson nullified licensing for the $7.4 billion project and brought construction to a halt until the National Energy Board and the federal government complete court-ordered fixes. Her ruling cited inadequate consultations with indigenous peoples affected by the project, and found the National Energy Board’s assessment of the expansion was so flawed that the federal Cabinet should not have relied on it during the approval process. She said the report failed to address the impact the project could have on the marine environment near a shipping terminal at the end of the expanded line or the impact of a sevenfold increase in tanker traffic on endangered killer whales in the area.
Hours after the court decision, indigenous groups celebrated the ruling. This is Tsleil-Waututh Chief Rueben George responding to the court decision Thursday.
RUEBEN GEORGE: We’re winning. At the beginning, I remember people saying this is a David-and-Goliath fight. And it’s true. The spirit of the people that I feel behind me was too big for Kinder Morgan. It was too big.
AMY GOODMAN: In an interesting twist just minutes after the court’s decision, Kinder Morgan’s shareholders agreed to sell the existing pipeline and the expansion project to the federal government for four-and-a-half billion dollars. Prime Minister Trudeau had announced in May that Canada would purchase the pipeline. This means the government now owns the project as its expansion faces years of further review. Canada’s finance minister, Bill Morneau, responded to the developments Thursday.
BILL MORNEAU: We’re absolutely committed to moving forward with this project. What the decision today asked us to do was to respond promptly, gave us some direction on how we could do that in a way that was going to be efficient from a time standpoint. So we will — we will be considering our next steps in light of that. What we really saw today was a confirmation that our government’s decision to buy this pipeline, because of political risks that were hard for a private-sector actor, was absolutely the right conclusion.
AMY GOODMAN: Kinder Morgan has confirmed its work on the pipeline will now stop, saying in a statement, “Trans Mountain is currently taking measures to suspend construction related activities on the Project in a safe and orderly manner,” unquote. Well, all of this prompted Alberta’s premier, Rachel Notley, to announce Alberta is pulling out of Canada’s federal climate plan.
RACHEL NOTLEY: Until the federal government gets its act together, Alberta is pulling out of the federal climate plan. And let’s be clear: Without Alberta, that plan isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.
AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined by Winona LaDuke, Native American activist, executive director of the group Honor the Earth. She lives and works on the White Earth reservation in northern Minnesota, but she is joining us from Mexico City. And joining us from Alberta, Canada, by phone is Eriel Deranger, founder and executive director of the group Indigenous Climate Action, a member of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Well, let’s go north first to Eriel. Your response to the judge’s decision and what this means for First Nations’ opposition to this pipeline?
ERIEL DERANGER: Well, I think, first off, we have to consider the fact that this isn’t the first time that the federal court has ruled in favor of First Nations. In 2016, we saw that, with respect to the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, that it found that the previous administration had failed to adequately consult with First Nations. This is another case where consultation is flawed.
We have to consider what this actually means. The consultation process in this country is fundamentally broken and doesn’t actually uphold international standards that are outlined within the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. And that is really the fundamental thing, that we need to be achieving free, prior and informed consent. And we’re not getting that through the consultation process. And we have to look at what we’re doing wrong in this country, and take actual measures to correct it. And that means giving communities the right to say no. And that’s not happening here.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I’d like to ask you — in terms of Prime Minister Trudeau, on the one hand, he claims that he is a leading fighter trying to halt climate change; on the other hand, he’s continuing to pursue the exploitation of fossil fuels in Canada. Can you talk about his situation right now?
ERIEL DERANGER: Yeah, you know, this is exactly it. The fact of the matter is, is that we are not talking about moving the line towards taking aggressive steps to take action on climate change, but we’re talking about building a giant constructed pipeline that will carry Alberta’s bitumen, which is extracted from my people’s territory, that increases global climate change by adding enormous amounts of emissions annually. And we’re talking about a government that’s doing whatever it takes to get this pipeline built, so that we can continue to create emissions rather than decreasing emissions like the rest of the world.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what it means that the shareholders have just voted, Trans Mountain, that, yes, the government can buy it for four-and-a-half billion dollars? So that means you all own it now, and yet the judge has ruled against it moving forward.
ERIEL DERANGER: Well, this is just it. We are out $4.5 billion in this country because of government’s lack of ability to look at the fact that indigenous rights actually hold weight. They hold their weight in this country. The court has continued to rule on our side, that the government is failing to do this. And now we’re out $4.5 [billion]. I think that is the reason why Trudeau and the government is trying to save face by saying, “We’re going to do whatever it takes to build it,” because now they’re on the hook for the $4.5 billion bill.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I’d like to bring in Winona LaDuke, director of the group Honor the Earth. Your reaction to the decision of the Canadian federal court?
WINONA LADUKE: Well, first, I want to say that Canada has a problem. I mean, they don’t have a plan B for their economy. You have to remember that Canada is the tar sands producer, and they’re trying to figure out how to milk the tar sands in the face of, you know, everything is burning, from California to the Arctic. The other thing is, is that, you know, they are — 75 percent of the world’s mining corporations are Canadian. And so, Canadians — the Canadian economy is predicated on this still “let’s just mine it, let’s suck it out, let’s ship it to someplace” staples economy. So, Canada needs an economic restructuring. That’s what it needs in order for us to deal with some of the problems that we’re facing, you know, across the board.
Now, of course, you know, we are all really pleased with this, because the fact is, is that these are illegal and immoral pipelines. What Eriel is talking about, the idea of free, prior and informed consent, that’s a U.N. standard. That’s a United Nations standard for relations between state governments and indigenous nations or First Nations. That’s not being upheld by Canada, and that’s certainly not being upheld by the United States. Canada’s approach is pretty much gunboat diplomacy, as it is in the United States: “We will starve you until you come to an agreement to host a pipeline or host a mine.” That’s how Canada operates. That’s how the U.S. operates. But this court has said, “You’re not going to do that. And, in fact, you’re going to have to get consent from these people.” So it’s a very, very important decision for all of us.
AMY GOODMAN: Winona LaDuke, you’re in Mexico City right now, but you were arrested last week in Bemidji, Minnesota, as you were opposing the Enbridge Line 3 oil pipeline, the pipeline that would carry tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to a terminal in Superior, Wisconsin. In June, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission approved that pipeline. Can you talk about why you were arrested and how that pipeline links to this Canadian decision?
WINONA LADUKE: Yeah. I mean, the state of Minnesota has had this long process. For six years I’ve been facing down the barrel of the Enbridge pipelines. And every agency in the state of Minnesota and the administrative law judge, after reviewing 72,000 comments, of which 68,000 comments were opposing the pipeline, and as much additional written testimony, recommended against issuing a certificate of need and against issuing a permit for the route. In a rogue decision, unprecedented in Minnesota history, the Public Utilities Commission, five members said they felt like they had a gun to their head by Enbridge — the gun meaning that Enbridge would just let Line 3 collapse and break and leak all over northern Minnesota — therefore, they felt they had to issue this permit. We all know that that’s wrong. One, you should remove the gun, because you’re the regulatory agency. And you shouldn’t buckle to a Canadian pipeline corporation that now wants a seventh pipeline across your territory.
Yes, you are right, I got cited last week — we call it kind of like “arrest-lite” — in downtown Bemidji with about 26 other people, mostly members of the Ojibwe Nation and church people, as well as the board chair of the Sierra Club, for opposing this line. And what we’re trying to point out also is that in the final days of the final negotiations on the pipeline, right in front of us, at the Public Utilities Commission, one of the PUC commissioners turns to Enbridge and says, “Will you pay for the police required to put in this pipeline?” In other words, “Will you finance the brutalization of Minnesotans in order to get your pipeline in, Enbridge?” And Enbridge said yes. And so, we have, you know, a multiagency task force out of Bemidji now that is preparing to launch — you know, we saw an LRAD, long-range acoustic device, and MRAP heading up to northern Minnesota. We are seeing the beginning of policing. And so, what we’re pointing out is, is that thousands of people are going to get arrested in Minnesota, if they proceed with a pipeline which is immoral, and it is illegal, and goes across our territory.
You know, I also want to say, Amy, you may remember that two years ago on this day is known as the day of the dogs. That is the day, on Standing Rock, when you were charged, and the dogs were released on our people as the Energy Transfer Partners moved ahead and bulldozed sacred sites for the Dakota Access pipeline. And I think that you also know that the Enbridge Corporation owns 28 percent of that Energy Transfer Partners pipeline, the Dakota Access pipeline. And so, we are fully aware of how brutal Enbridge can be. And that’s why we stood there to get arrested, to say, “You should not do that to our people. It is wrong to do.”
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Eriel Deranger, I wanted to ask you about the debate among the peoples of the First Nations in Alberta in terms of the pipeline, because, obviously, also the energy industry employs a lot of folks in that area. Your sense of how the debate is going on among the First Nations?
ERIEL DERANGER: Well, you know, I think Winona hit the nail right on the head with her explanation of what it’s like in the U.S. People feel as though they have a gun to their head. It’s not making the best choice for your people. It’s making the best choice out of a slew of options that are going to really, you know, undermine your people’s rights, are going to destroy the environment, they’re going to impede people’s health and safety, or you have a roof over your head and food on your table, and you can like, you know, put clothes on the backs of your children. This is the reality, is our communities are put in economic hostage situations. As the number one employer in the region, our communities are forced into a corner to make really hard decisions.
And I have a lot of relatives, family members, that are employed by this industry, that also support the opposition to the Trans Mountain pipeline, that support the opposition to the continued expansion of the Alberta tar sands in our backyard. But when it comes down to leadership, our leadership has been coerced through bribery, through coercion by the government, coercion by the companies themselves, to make deals. And what we’re looking to do in this region, rather than look for the consent of indigenous communities, is we’re looking for what it’s going to take monetarily to get communities to finally buckle under the pressure, the financial pressures that exist within our territories.
So, as far as the debate goes, it’s really, really mixed. People don’t know what to do anymore. They feel really locked into this economy, and they feel forced to make decisions that they don’t necessarily agree with. And we’re not really being given any other options. Like we’re hearing about Line 3 in the region here, they’re saying that we need these pipelines in order to make transportation of oil safer. It’s one or the other, not a good decision for our communities to be making.
AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you both for being with us. We’re going to do Part 2 and post it online at democracynow.org. Eriel Deranger, speaking to us from Alberta, Indigenous Climate Action. Winona LaDuke, Native American activist with Honor the Earth.