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Poor protection of waterways paved the path for Trudeau's pipeline approvals

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Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta

Transport minister Marc Garneau was among the cabinet ministers standing behind Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as he announced his government's approval of two major tar sands pipelines -- the 890,000-barrel Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline and the 760,000-barrel per day Line 3 pipeline.

The National Energy Board began its review of the Trans Mountain project in April 2014 and recommended its approval in May 2016.

That means it took place after the Harper government gutted the former Navigable Waters Protection Act and other environmental protections in 2012. Harper's omnibus bills removed pipelines from provisions of the Act and meant that 31,000 lakes and 2.25 million rivers are no longer protected by federal scrutiny.

Those amendments were lobbied for and literally written by Big Oil seeking to expedite major energy project approvals.

While the National Energy Board acknowledges that the pipeline would potentially cross 246 watercourses in Alberta and 1,063 watercourses in British Columbia, it demands little more of Kinder Morgan than for the Texas-based company to file an inventory of these waterways along with a safety plan for navigable waterways.

The Council of Canadians has been calling on the Trudeau government through our #EveryLakeEveryRiver campaign to immediately restore the protections cut in 2012.

We believe that the 31,000 lakes and 2.25 million rivers now not listed under the Navigation Protection Act must be listed once again. We believe that new and more stringent protections must be put into place that would put water sustainability, water justice, water as a public trust and a human right above the interests of Big Oil and their desire to have their pipelines cross these waterways.

Our Kamloops chapter has highlighted that the Trans Mountain pipeline threatens the South Thompson River. In May 2014, Kamloops This Week reported, "Western Canadian Spill Services and Kinder Morgan crews staged a mock spill scenario on the South Thompson River at Pioneer Park. A containment boom was deployed in the river from the park boat launch, as it would in the event of a real pipeline leak into the South Thompson."

While the South Thompson River is one of the 62 rivers listed in the Navigation Protection Act, the tributaries that feed into (such as Peterson Creek) are not. An enhanced Navigable Waters Protection Act could have resulted in a rejection of Trans Mountain. 

During the October 2015 federal election, the Liberals criticized the Harper government's "elimination of the Navigable Waters Protection Act" and promised to "review these changes, restore lost protections, and incorporate more modern safeguards."

Now Transport minister Marc Garneau has said, "Some of the changes that were made we may end up saying they're reasonable, but some of them we definitely will change."

The Globe and Mail reports that this equivocation may be because, "The Liberal government is feeling pressure from industry [including Big Oil] over a campaign pledge to restore regulations surrounding project permits and environmental assessments."

Dec. 7 is the deadline to send your comments and demand to restore the Navigable Waters Protection Act to the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. For more on how to do that, please see Council of Canadians water campaigner Emma Lui's blog Have your say on restoring protections for #EveryLakeEveryRiver!

Beyond submissions to the government, there is a growing recognition that civil disobedience will now be needed to protect lakes and rivers from Trudeau's tar sands pipeline agenda.

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