Debate on Kinder Morgan tar sands pipeline takes centre stage in B.C. election

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For a climate organizer, the ongoing British Columbia election campaign has been a rare treat. For the first time in a very long time, climate change and fossil fuels are taking centre stage in an election campaign.

The past two federal elections have been marked more by the absence of discussion of climate change than its presence. Even in the most recent U.S. federal election, climate only broke into the campaign thanks to the force of a climate supercharged hurricane crashing into New York City.

NDP comes out against Kinder Morgan pipeline 

Surprisingly, it hasn't been the long embattled Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline that has taken centre stage, but rather the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project.

 In fact, one of the biggest news stories of the election was NDP leader Adrian Dix taking a stronger stand on the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion. After months of dancing around a decision he came out against the project, and specifically the increased tanker traffic in Burrard Inlet. Lauded by environmental groups and attacked by the Liberal Party, the move was a major victory for communities across B.C. fighting the Kinder Morgan pipeline, but it also shines a light on a significant issue in our campaigns.

Don't get me wrong, this is a big win, a really big win, and one which should be celebrated. At the same time the terms of victory should have us worried. Dix's position on Kinder Morgan, and much of the resistance to new pipelines and projects along what is increasing being called B.C.'s Carbon Corridor, is based on real and important threats from tanker and pipeline spills. While these are all great reasons to fight these projects, we cannot afford to ignore the roots, be they in the frack fields or the tar sands. Blocking off access to the coast is choking and slowing down these carbon bombs, but now its time to start defusing them.

Shades of Keystone XL

When I heard the NDP position it brought me back to the 2011 decision by Barack Obama to delay the Keystone XL pipeline, expressly due to resistance in Nebraska fcused on the threat the Keystone posed to the Ogalala aquifer. In nearly the same breath that he delayed the project, Obama was in Cushing, Oklahoma promising to expedite a new routing to get the pipeline flowing.

Flash forward to today and the Keystone fight has changed. Groups in the United States have succeeded in placing the carbon footprint and the impact on Indigenous communities at the centre of the decision now on Obama's desk. Here in B.C., it's time to take a lesson and start shutting down these projects for good, not only because they threaten our backyards, but because they are endangering our future.

If we don't begin to take a full cost account of the impacts that pipeline and export projects have on our climate, we are making a gamble that we can't afford. We're gambling that these pipelines wont find other paths or ports to the Pacific, like through Washinton or one of our northern neighbors. More than that, we're betting against the deep pockets and tenacity of the fossil fuel giants to lobby, reroute, redesign and continue trying to resell these projects.

Clean energy revolution needed 

Even if we create a bulwark in British Columbia against these projects, tar sands emissions know no borders. We may be protecting B.C.'s forests from an oil spill, but when the mountain pine beetle rips through the same forests it will be a pyrrhic victory. And even when we manage to defend the coast, keeping it tanker free, those oceans are not immune to acidification and rising temperatures.

Don't get me wrong. I am ecstatic that Adrian Dix and the NDP have taken such a bold stance on the Kinder Morgan pipeline, amongst their other impressive climate policies. I am amazed and excited that these projects and issues are taking center stage for the first time in years, but I am also concerned.

You can bet that whoever wins this election, Enbridge, Kinder Morgan and every other fossil fuel company with an eye on the B.C. coast will be sharpening every tool they have.

We need to be doing the same, because the day after election day, we have a chance to set the standard for a clean energy revolution in Canada, and I for one can't wait to get started. 


Cameron Fenton is the National Director of the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition.

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