First nations call for delay in environmental review
Nov 24, 2011, Vancouver Sun (Read article on originating site site)
A group of British Columbia’s coastal first nations wants an adjournment to the environmental review of Enbridge Inc.‘s Northern Gateway pipeline project for an opportunity to re-start for-mal consultations with the company.
However, the move has more to do with formally maintaining their opposition to the controversial project than representing any change of heart over the prospect of an oilsands pipe-line from Edmonton to Kitimat and tanker traffic off B.C.‘s coast, according to Art Sterritt, executive director of the Coastal First Nations Great Bear Initiative.
“With the legal landscape in B.C. the way it is, consultation is a two-way street,” Sterritt said in an interview.
“Not only is Enbridge obligated [to consult first nations]. They’ve been delegated by [the federal government] to consult first nations for the project.
“But Coastal First Nations also have an obligation to do that.”
And on Monday, mere weeks before the National Energy Board’s joint review panel is scheduled to begin public hearings, Coastal First Nations, which represents 11 aboriginal com-munities on the coast, has submitted a notice-of-motion to the National Energy Board joint review panel asking for an adjournment.
Sterritt said the genesis of the request was a Sept. 28 meeting between the Coastal First Nation’s board of directors and Enbridge officials, including CEO Pat Daniel.
At that meeting, Sterritt said, Daniel admitted that the company’s initial discussions with the first nations hadn’t gone well, and given an “opportunity for a fresh start, they would do things differently.”
“Instead of coming and telling us what they thought was good about the project, they would actually listen to us.”
And Sterritt added that the Coastal First Nations viewed it as a possible opportunity to register their continued concerns over the project’s potential environmental impacts.
However, Sterritt said the group felt it couldn’t re-engage in consultation with Enbridge in a meaningful way if the NEB’s joint review were happening at the same time and asked Daniel to call for a delay in the hearings.
The joint review panel is conducting a dual environmental assessment of the pipeline and review of Canada’s economic need for the project.
However, Daniel said he wasn’t sure he could make that request without the support of Northern Gateway’s other backers.
Sterritt said Enbridge’s response, which was received in later October, was that the project’s backers were not prepared to suspend the joint review, so he is now skeptical about the possibility of re-starting consultations.
However, the group still submitted its request to the joint review for an adjournment and is demanding that Enbridge be compelled to reveal who Northern Gateway’s other backers are. So far, the Chinese state oil firm Sinopec is the only one that has formally stated its involvement.
Annie Roy, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, said the panel will consider the Coastal First Nations’ motion “in a timely manner” and issue a decision.
Paul Stanway, Enbridge’s spokes-man on the Northern Gateway project, said the company will wait until the panel makes its decision before commenting on the situation.
However, he added that the company is still in active consultations with communities along the pipeline’s route, including aboriginal communities, that are interested in talking about participating in the project.
While several first nations have publicly stated their opposition to Northern Gateway, Stanway said “it is a mistaken impression” that opposition is unanimous.
Sterritt added that the Coastal First Nations began to worry they may appear unreasonable when it comes to resource development when the communities have been supportive of other developments, such as the Kiti-mat LNG development.
“We do support certain development under certain conditions, but oil and water are the problem for us,” Sterritt said. “Oil and water don’t mix.”