Blockades and the politics of division

Image result for Winniped Free Press: Blockades and the politics of division

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister sent an email this week to Tory supporters entitled: “These illegal blockades.”

By  Niigaan Sinclair

“You’ve probably heard about the highway and rail blockades happening across the country,” Pallister wrote in the Thursday evening message, “including the one right here in Manitoba.”

Echoing actions in Ontario and Quebec, demonstrators had blocked commuter and freight travel west of Winnipeg to protest the RCMP removal of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and activists challenging the construction of a gas pipeline in northern B.C.

Pallister announced Wednesday his government would seek a court injunction to remove the Manitoba protesters from the rail line. By 2 p.m. Thursday, though, CN Railway had received approval of its own injunction and the occupation was ended.

Still, Pallister sent out his email four hours later.

“We respect the rights of protesters,” it proclaims. “But laws need to be applied.”

The message goes on to criticize Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew for supporting “those behind the blockades,” alongside signing the “‘Leap Manifesto,’ a radical document calling for the shutdown of Canada’s entire resource sector!”

Actors, activists, and musicians launch the Leap Manifesto outlining a climate and economic vision for Canada during a press conference in 2015.
 

Actors, activists, and musicians launch the Leap Manifesto outlining a climate and economic vision for Canada during a press conference in 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/DARREN CALABRESE

For the record, the Leap Manifesto is an apolitical document created in 2015 by more than 60 Indigenous, social welfare, food, environmental, labour, and faith-based (mostly Christian) organizations, and committed to by more than 52,000 celebrities, activists, and Canadians.

The document is “a call for a Canada based on caring for the Earth and one another,” and asks signees to commit to honouring treaties, building locally-based energy infrastructure, and supporting immigrants and workers to enter environmentally-friendly sectors. It also calls on governments to fund “caregiving, teaching, social work, the arts, and public-interest media,” a national child-care program, and institute a universal basic income.

In fairness, the manifesto also calls for an end to fossil fuel subsidies, creation of a carbon tax, cuts to military spending, and adopting a national “polluter pays” principle.

Aboriginal Law Report, Feb 16 2020

There is no better place to learn about Aboriginal issues than Bruce McIvor’s weekly  Aboriginal Law Report.

By Bruce McIvor

This week’s edition includes #WetsuwetenStrong, Treaty rights, a Charter challenge, legal history, the rule of law, and more.

In the News

Wet’suwet’en solidarity actions continue across the country. In case you missed it, my colleague Kate Gunn and I released this explainer to clarify some fundamental misunderstandings of this issue: The Wet’suwet’en, Aboriginal Title, and the Rule of Law.

Hereditary leadership filed a Charter challenge to government inaction on climate change.

Child welfare and rights representation were front and centre in Alberta.

Also in Alberta, the Frontier mine continues to raise consultation concerns.

Treaty rights remain a hot topic in Saskatchewan.

In Ontario, Lac Seul First Nation’s boil advisory came to an end.

The Alton Gas battle is ongoing in Nova Scotia.

The Yukon government banned mineral staking on site-specific settlement lands.

FPL in the News

I spoke about the Canadian “rule of law” and Indigenous land rights on CTV’s Power Play.

My colleague Kate Gunn was interviewed by several media outlets regarding the Wet’suwet’en standoff.

Off the Press

This is a revealing piece on the coordinated denial of Indigenous rights following the Delgamuukw-Gisday’way decision.

Here’s an overview of the latest legal challenge to Coastal GasLink’s environmental certificate.

Check out the latest episode on the Red Nation Podcast interviewing Dr. Karla Tait on #WetsuwetenStrong.

Lastly, here’s a powerful photo essay of the RCMP invasion of Wet’suwet’en territory.

Public Education

I’ll be giving a talk at Banyen Books & Sound on March 11 on “First Peoples Law, Decolonization, and the Struggle for Justice in Canada.” Here are the details.

Quote of the Week

“Jail me for being a loving grandma who cares about her yintah.”

Brenda Michell, Unist’ot’en Healing Centre

Off the Bookshelf

“Some things are already set in place to happen, long before they happen – we just waiting to catch up is all.”

Rasheedah Phillips, Telescoping Effect (2017)


SOURCE

The New Frontiers of Farming Come With Huge Climate Risks

A worker picks cherries from a tree on May 21, 2018 in Acampo, California.Photo: Getty

Not sure you’ve heard, but the planet is getting hotter. The heat is making farming harder in some places, but it’s also making it possible to bring agriculture into new areas. Farmers are growing food in northern Alberta, Canada. Russia plans to “use the advantages” of global warming to expand its agriculture northward. And by 2030, New England could have three times as much farmland as it does now. Finally, some good news!

Except maybe not. New research shows that expanding agriculture northward could screw up the environment and unleash a flood of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, worsening the climate crisis. The new study published in PLOS One on Wednesday shows that disturbing soils on new northern farmland could release 177 gigatons of carbon. That’s equivalent to more than a century’s worth of present-day carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S.

The researchers used projections from 17 global climate models and found that if greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current rate, global temperatures could rise by 4.8 degrees Celsius (8.6 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century. That would open up as much as 9.3 million square miles of arable land in the northern part of the world as well as high altitude areas by 2080. Those new areas could support important food crops, including wheat, corn and soy. Yes, the findings are based on the upper end of carbon emissions scenarios, but even lower emissions scenarios will still warm the planet and create millions of acres of new potential farmland.

Farming isn’t inherently bad. After all, people need to eat. And if the world’s population grows to 10 billion by 2050, the world will need to produce 70 percent more food. The problem is how we farm. Soil traps carbon from the atmosphere, and when it’s turned over to create new farmland, some of that carbon gets released. That effect at a large scale, the researchers worry, could trigger runaway climate change.

To make matters worse, farming new frontiers could also pose problems for biodiversity, especially in tropical mountain regions that are newly warm enough to support agriculture. The predicted new farming frontiers cover some of the world’s most biodiverse regions and critical bird habitats. Agriculture that relies on fertilizer and fossil fuel-powered equipment also releases toxic byproducts into the local environment that can trickle downstream (see the Gulf of Mexico dead zone for a prime example of how had it can get). Farming higher in the mountains could pollute drinking water that more than 1.8 billion people rely on.

These effects are all bad on their own, but the climate crisis, biodiversity loss, and water pollution can compound the stress of each even further. Another recent study showed that these threats “have the potential to impact and amplify one another in ways that might cascade to create global systemic collapse.”

There are policies that could mitigate these effects, such as making sure that the world’s most carbon-rich soil is off limits, and reforesting the areas that are no longer suitable for agriculture. And since all the potential farmland the researchers identified isn’t ready to farm yetthe time to create those policies is now, before there’s money to be made off those new frontiers and things go full Wild West. SOURCE

A Growing Presence on the Farm: Robots

A new generation of autonomous robots is helping plant breeders shape the crops of tomorrow.

Not only can the TerraSentia navigate under dense crop canopies, it can make many observations about plant health and yield as it drives through fields.

Credit…Institute for Genomic Biology/University of Illinois

FARMER CITY, Illinois — In a research field off Highway 54 last autumn, corn stalks shimmered in rows 40-feet deep. Girish Chowdhary, an agricultural engineer at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, bent to place a small white robot at the edge of a row marked 103. The robot, named TerraSentia, resembled a souped up version of a lawn mower, with all-terrain wheels and a high-resolution camera on each side.

In much the same way that self-driving cars “see” their surroundings, TerraSentia navigates a field by sending out thousands of laser pulses to scan its environment. A few clicks on a tablet were all that were needed to orient the robot at the start of the row before it took off, squeaking slightly as it drove over ruts in the field.

“It’s going to measure the height of each plant,” Dr. Chowdhary said.

It would do that and more. The robot is designed to generate the most detailed portrait possible of a field, from the size and health of the plants, to the number and quality of ears each corn plant will produce by the end of the season, so that agronomists can breed even better crops in the future. In addition to plant height, TerraSentia can measure stem diameter, leaf-area index and “stand count” — the number of live grain- or fruit-producing plants — or all of those traits at once. And Dr. Chowdhary is working on adding even more traits, or phenotypes, to the list with the help of colleagues at EarthSense, a spinoff company that he created to manufacture more robots.

Traditionally, plant breeders have measured these phenotypes by hand, and used them to select plants with the very best characteristics for creating hybrids. The advent of DNA sequencing has helped, enabling breeders to isolate genes for some desirable traits, but it still takes a human to assess whether the genes isolated from the previous generation actually led to improvements in the next one.

“The idea is that robots can automate the phenotyping process and make these measurements more reliable,” Dr. Chowdhary said. In doing so, the TerraSentia and others like it can help optimize the yield of farms far beyond what humans alone have been able to accomplish.

Automation has always been a big part of agriculture, from the first seed drills to modern combine harvesters. Farm equipment is now regularly outfitted with sensors that use machine learning and robotics to identify weeds and calculate the amount of herbicide that needs to sprayed, for instance, or to learn to detect and pick strawberries.

Lately, smaller, more dexterous robots have emerged in droves. In 2014, the French company Naïo released 10 prototypes of a robot named Oz that is just three feet long and weighs roughly 300 pounds. It assembles phenotypes of vegetable crops even as it gobbles up weeds. EcoRobotix, based in Switzerland, makes a solar-powered robot that rapidly identifies crops and weeds; the device resembles an end table on wheels. The household appliance-maker Bosch has also tested a robot called BoniRob for analyzing soil and plants.

“All of a sudden, people are starting to realize that data collection and analysis tools developed during the 90s technology boom can be applied to agriculture,” said George A. Kantor, a senior systems scientist at Carnegie Mellon University, who is using his own research to develop tools for estimating crop yields.

The TerraSentia is among the smallest of the farmbots available today. At 12.5 inches wide and roughly the same height, the 30-pound robot fits well between rows of various crops. It also focuses on gathering data from much earlier in the agricultural pipeline: The research plots where plant breeders select the varieties that ultimately make it to market.

Girish Chowdhary, holding a TerraSentia robot, and Chinmay Soman, left, with Tim Smith at one of Mr. Smith’s research fields in Farmer City, Ill.

The data collected by the TerraSentia is changing breeding from a reactionary process into a more predictive one. Using the robot’s advanced machine-learning skills, scientists can collate the influence of hundreds, even thousands, of factors on a plant’s future traits, much like doctors utilize genetic tests to understand the likelihood of a patient developing breast cancer or Type 2 diabetes.

“Using phenotyping robots, we can identify the best-yielding plants before they even shed pollen,” said Mike Gore, a plant biologist at Cornell University. He added that doing so can potentially cut in half the time needed to breed a new cultivar — a plant variety produced by selective breeding — from roughly eight years to just four.

The demands on agriculture are rising globally. The human population is expected to climb to 9.8 billion by 2050 and 11.2 billion by 2100, according to the United Nations. To feed the world — with less land, fewer resources and in the face of climate change — farmers will need to augment their technological intelligence.

The agricultural giants are interested. Corteva, which spun off from the merger of Dow Chemical and DuPont in 2016, has been testing the TerraSentia in fields across the United States.

“There’s definitely a niche for this kind of robot,” said Neil Hausmann, who oversees research and development at Corteva. “It provides standardized, objective data that we use to make a lot of our decisions. We use it in breeding and product advancement, in deciding which product is the best, which ones to move forward and which ones will have the right characteristics for growers in different parts of the country.”

Dr. Chowdhary and his colleagues hope that partnerships with big agribusinesses and academic institutions will help subsidize the robots for smallholder farmers. “Our goal is to eventually get the cost of the robots under $1,000,” he said.

Farmers don’t need special expertise to operate the TerraSentia, either, Dr. Chowdhary said. The robot is almost fully autonomous. Growers with thousands of acres of land can have several units survey their crops, but a farmer in a developing country with only five acres of land could use one just as easily. The TerraSentia has already been tested in a wide variety of fields, including corn, soybean, sorghum, cotton, wheat, tomatoes, strawberries, citrus crops, apple orchards, almond farms and vineyards.

But some experts question whether such robots will ever truly be targeted to small farms, or a sufficiently affordable option. “For the kind of agriculture that smallholders tend to engage in, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and parts of Latin America, there are a lot of barriers to the adoption of new technologies,” said Kyle Murphy, a policy and agricultural development analyst at the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab at M.I.T. He added that robots like the TerraSentia may be more likely to help smallholder farmers indirectly, by promoting the development of better or more suitable crops.

Before the TerraSentia can advance crop breeding for a wide swath of farmers, it must perfect a few more skills. Occasionally, it trips over branches and debris on the ground, or its wheels get stuck in muddy soil, requiring the user to walk behind the rover and right its course as needed. “Hopefully, by next year we’ll be able to train the TerraSentia so even more so users won’t have to be anywhere in the field,” Dr. Chowdhary said.

For the moment, the TerraSentia keeps a leisurely pace, less than one mile an hour. This allows its cameras to capture slight changes in pixels to measure the plants’ leaf-area index and recognize signs of disease. Dr. Chowdhary and his colleagues at EarthSense are hoping that advancements in camera technology will eventually add to the robot’s speed.

The team is also building a maintenance barn, where the TerraSentia can dock after a long day. There, its battery can be swapped with a fully charged one, and its wheels and sensors can be sprayed clean. But for now, a farmer simply dumps the robot in the back of a truck, takes it home and uploads its data to the cloud for analysis.

The main office of EarthSense, in Urbana, Illinois, is full of early versions of robotic technology that didn’t quite pan out. Initial prototypes of TerraSentia lacked a proper suspension system, so the robot jumped into the air and disrupted the video streams whenever researchers set it loose in a deeply rutted field. Another design kept melting from the heat of the robot’s motors, until they switched plastics and added metal shielding.

Those early, cracked chassis are now stacked on a shelf, like a museum display: a reminder of the need for improvement, but also of the excitement that the robot has generated.

“A lot people who tried the early prototypes still came back to us, even after having robots that essentially broke on them all the time,” Dr. Chowdhary said. “That’s how badly they needed these things.” SOURCE

Scheer blasted as ‘racist and absurd’ for telling Wet’suwet’en supporters to ‘check their privilege’

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer speaks to media on Parliament Hill on Feb. 14, 2020. Photo by Kamara Morozuk

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer appeared in the halls of Canada’s seat of power Friday, walked up to the microphone and cameras waiting for him to address a national audience and told those who have been standing in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en to “check their privilege.”

The Gidimt’en camp of members of the Wet’suwet’en Nation told National Observer that kind of statement is “racist and absurd” when many Indigenous communities have been discriminated against or lack access to basic services.

Scheer was responding to the news this week that blockades of key rail lines — in protest of the RCMP’s arrests of Wet’suwet’en members in British Columbia in order to clear the route for a gas pipeline — are putting pressure on some industry employees.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer in Ottawa on Feb. 14, 2020. Photo by Kamara Morozuk

He seized on numbers cited by transportation-sector union Teamsters Canada that “up to 6,000 workers” could be out of work as a result of a decision by Canadian National (CN) Railway to shut down eastern operations, as well as Via Rail’s cancellation of passenger-train service across the country. More than 400 trains have been cancelled in the past week, CN has said.

“These protesters, these activists, may have the luxury of spending days at a time at a blockade, but they need to check their privilege,” Scheer told reporters, who had gathered outside the House of Commons chamber on Parliament Hill in order to broadcast his views.

“They need to check their privilege, and let people whose jobs depend on the railway system, small businesses and farmers do their jobs.”

Wet’suwet’en supporters create a rail blockade in Port Coquitlam, B.C., on Feb. 13, 2020. Photo by Jesse Winter

Asked what she thought of Scheer’s statement, Molly Wickham, spokeswoman for the Gidimt’en camp of Wet’suwet’en Nation members, said the Tory leader’s words made little sense.

“All of Canada is subsidized by Indigenous people. All Canadian industries and transportation infrastructure rely on the theft of Indigenous land for their existence,” she said. “Calling Indigenous land defenders ‘privileged’ when so many of our communities are denied basic human rights and services is racist and absurd.”

Two examples of Indigenous human-rights issues include the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal decision that Ottawa was “willful and reckless” with First Nations children who suffered racial discrimination and unnecessary separation from their families, as well as the fact that there are still 60 long-term drinking-water advisories on reserves despite the United Nations recognizing clean drinking water as a human right. MORE

RELATED:

Wet’suwet’en Crisis: Whose Rule of Law?
Canada’s treatment of Wet’suwet’en perpetuates colonial trauma
Rail blockades are proving to be an effective non-violent ceresponse to state violence

 

‘Modest progress’ made in daylong talks over Ontario rail blockade, says Indigenous Services minister

Marc Miller says he will speak with the prime minister tonight, discuss next steps with cabinet

Marc Miller meets with Mohawk leaders to discuss Ontario rail blockade. 1:04

The federal Indigenous Services Minister wrapped up daylong meetings with members of the Mohawk First Nation Saturday evening saying “modest progress” had been made in talks to end a blockade that has brought rail service throughout much of Eastern Canada to a virtual standstill.

Marc Miller said he plans to take what he learned after the meeting on Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory back to Ottawa to share with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and cabinet.

He said the talks were productive, but there was no news on whether the protest was going to end.

Marc Miller and members of the Mohawk First Nation began discussions Saturday morning at the site where a handful of protestors were camped out for the 10th straight day in solidarity with the hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation in British Columbia, who oppose the development of a liquefied natural gas pipeline crossing their traditional territory.

Representatives from 20 First Nations along the pipeline route —  including the elected chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en —  signed agreements with Coastal GasLink consenting to the project. However, the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs say those councils were established by the Indian Act and only have authority over reserve lands.

After meeting with the group for about an hour at the Wyman Rd. CN Rail crossing, about 200 kilometres east of Toronto, the discussion moved to the Mohawk Community Centre on Mohawk Tyendinaga Territory.

The meeting was described as “emotional” at times, according to people inside the room who spoke to CBC News.

Miller said upon arriving that he didn’t know whether he could convince the Mohawk to end the blockade and allow the resumption of rail services, but said he was there to start a dialogue.

“This is a situation that is very tense, very volatile, there are some people that have been standing out there for days, so today is a chance to talk and have a real discussion,” said Miller before the meeting.

“We’re a nation of people that have stopped talking to each other. We tweet. We make statements on Facebook. We go around asking, condemning, but we’re not talking.”

Train services suspended across Eastern Canada

The Ontario blockade, combined with similar efforts in B.C. and Quebec, resulted in Via Rail suspending passenger train service nationwide and Canadian National Railway Co. shutting down freight operations for Eastern Canada on Friday.

The Mohawk agreed to meet with Miller after he sent an invitation to some Mohawk leaders on Wednesday. Miller requested the meeting, he said, to “polish the silver covenant chain,” which the Mohawks say refers to one of the original agreements between the First Nation and the Crown.

Miller acknowledged the difficulties that the blockades have caused for travellers and businesses, but stressed that the government’s approach was to negotiate, rather than have police dismantle them.

Protesters stand on the closed train tracks on the ninth day of the blockade in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, near Belleville, Ont. on Friday. (Lars Hagberg/Canadian Press)

 

“All of Canada is hurting, the economy is slowing down,” said Miller. “Everyone knows the reports about supply shortages, but we can’t move forward without dialogue and that’s we’re going to do today.”

The approach worked in B.C., where protestors blocking CN train tracks near New Hazelton in northern B.C., agreed to end their protest after both the provincial and federal governments agreed to sit down with Gitxsan hereditary chiefs.

Still, with new blockades and protests popping up in different places almost daily, the Liberal government risks losing control of the situation.

A growing number of business leaders and industry groups called for government or police intervention in the shutdowns, and federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer took up the cry on Friday.

“Law enforcement should enforce the law,” he said. “We have court orders, we have court injunctions. They need to be respected.”

Canadian National Railway obtained a court injunction to end the demonstration on Feb. 7, but the Ontario Provincial Police have not enforced it.

WATCH | Coastal GasLink: Exploring Indigenous support and opposition

The $6-billion, 670-kilometre Coastal GasLink pipeline has received approval from the province, and 20 First Nations band councils, but the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs say those band councils are only responsible for the territory within their individual reserves. 11:52

Ontario Provincial Police defended their handling of the situation, saying officers have been in talks with the protesters throughout the week — a move that’s in line with the force’s framework on resolving conflicts with Indigenous communities.

“The proper use of police discretion is a valid, appropriate approach to de-escalating situations such as this,” spokesperson Bill Dickson said in a statement. “The proper exercise of police discretion should not be confused with a lack of enforcement.”

Liberal government taking careful approach

But Transport Minister Marc Garneau said the situation is more nuanced, acknowledging the fraught history between Ontario Provincial Police and Indigenous communities may call for a more delicate approach.

“Also remember that they have to take into account some history here when we’re talking about what happened at Ipperwash,” he said, referring to a violent 1995 standoff that resulted in the death of Indigenous activist Dudley George. “It is their decision about how to approach that.”

Trudeau agreed, noting that police forces have the right to use their discretion when addressing such situations.

“We are not the kind of country where politicians tell police what to do in operational matters,” Trudeau said at a press conference in Germany.  SOURCE

Why Coastal GasLink says it rejected a pipeline route endorsed by Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs

Alternate route was too costly and posed greater environmental risks, company says

In January, RCMP enforced an injunction, ordering people to stop preventing Coastal GasLink workers from accessing a road and bridge in northern B.C. A second round of injunction enforcement occurred earlier this month. (Chantelle Bellrichard/CBC)

As rallies spring up across Canada to support Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs fighting the Coastal GasLink pipeline in northern B.C., an increasing number of people are wondering: Why doesn’t the company use an alternate route to avoid opposition?

Former NDP MP Nathan Cullen raised the idea several times when he was still an elected representative for the region. More recently, Green Party MP Paul Manley returned from a January visit to the region with the idea — one he said came from the hereditary chiefs themselves.

“The Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs provided alternative routes to Coastal GasLink that would have been acceptable to them as a pipeline corridor,” he said in a statement last month.

“Coastal GasLink decided that it did not want to take those acceptable options and instead insisted on a route that drives the pipeline through ecologically pristine and culturally important areas.”

The $6-billion, 670-kilometre Coastal GasLink pipeline would move natural gas from near Dawson Creek, in northeastern B.C., to a coastal LNG Canada export terminal in Kitimat. It is a key component of a $40-billion project announced by the federal and provincial governments last fall.

Manley’s statement has since gone viral, but little about the alternate path proposed by the hereditary chiefs has been reported. Here is what CBC has learned about that route, and the reasons given for its rejection.

Coastal GasLink’s selection process

In an interview with reporters on Jan. 27, Coastal GasLink president David Pfeiffer was asked why the company wouldn’t move the pipeline’s path in order to avoid conflict.

“We spent many years assessing multiple routes through the Wet’suwet’en Territory, about six years,” Pfeiffer said. “The current route was selected as the most technically viable and one that minimized impact to the environment.”

Construction work on the Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline is underway along the Morice Forest Service Road, near Smithers, B.C. (Chantelle Bellrichard/CBC)

 

He said the company explored multiple alternative routes after getting feedback from local First Nations and Indigenous leaders, including the Office of the Wet’suwet’en, a non-profit governed by Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and used to manage lands and resources throughout their territory.

On its website, Coastal GasLink provides a timeline of its route selection process, including a decision to use the “South of Houston” alternate route, which redirects one portion of the pipeline approximately 3.5 kilometres south of the original path.

The company says the detour was selected after receiving feedback from Indigenous groups in the area.

The Wet’suwet’en alternative

During the planning stages of the pipeline, the Office of the Wet’suwet’en presented Coastal GasLink with an alternate route through its territory referred to as “The McDonnell Lake route.”

According to Mike Ridsdale, the Office of the Wet’suwet’en’s environmental assessment co-ordinator, that route would have followed a path through Wet’suwet’en territory eyed for use by Pacific Northern Gas for an expansion and looping project.

Manley has confirmed this is the route he was referencing in his statement.

The Coastal GasLink pipeline route from Burns Lake to Kitimat passes through Wet’suwet’en territory. (Coastal GasLink)

The rejected McDonnell Lake route would also run through Wet’suwet’en territory, but would pass further north, toward Smithers. Mike Ridsdale of the Office of the Wet’suwet’en said Pacific Northern Gas has considered the route for its own pipeline project, depicted in purple. (Pacific Northern Gas/B.C. Oil and Gas Commission)

 

Ridsdale said the route follows “already heavily disturbed areas along the Highway 16 corridor, and away from highly known cultural areas, as well as away from the Skeena headwaters of salmon spawning areas that the Wet’suwet’en rely on.”

Why it was rejected

In a letter provided to CBC by the Office of Wet’swuwet’en, Coastal GasLink says it explored the possibility of using the McDonnell Lake route through aerial and computer reviews, and by meeting with representatives of Pacific Northern Gas.

The letter — dated Aug. 21, 2014 — also outlines reasons Coastal GasLink rejected the route, including:

  • It would increase the pipeline’s length by as much as 89 kilometers, upping both the environmental impact and as much as $800 million in capital costs.
  • The pipeline’s diameter, at 48 inches, is too large to safely be installed along the route. (Pacific Northern’s pipeline is between 10 and 12 inches, and the proposed upgrade would be 24 inches.)
  • The McDonnell Lake route would be closer to the urban B.C. communities of Smithers, Houston, Terrace and Kitimat.
  • Re-routing the pipeline would impact an additional four First Nations who had not already been consulted by Coastal GasLink, which would add up to one year of delays to the construction process.

“From our perspective, the route was not feasible on the basis of those significant environmental and technical issues and therefore route examination ceased,” said Coastal GasLink spokesperson Terry Cunha in a followup email to CBC.

RCMP are seen pulling an arrestee during the enforcement of a court injunction on behalf of Coastal Gaslink on Saturday, Feb. 8. (Ch
antelle Bellrichard/CBC)

 

Those same reasons were laid out in the B.C. Supreme Court injunction issued Dec. 31, 2019, which allowed Coastal GasLink to proceed with construction of the pipeline.

In a 2014 submission to Coastal GasLink and B.C.’s Environmental Assessment Office, the Office of the Wet’suwet’en cites Coastal GasLink’s rejection of the McDonnell Lake route as a sign the company is unwilling to work with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs.

Other proposed routes

Ridsdale said the Office of the Wet’suwet’en also proposed a second route, known as the Kemano, because then the pipeline would have travelled through an area already damaged by flooding from the Rio Tinto Alcan project.

He also said the route ultimately selected by Coastal GasLink travels a portion of terrain known as the “Icy Pass route,” and provided documentation from another pipeline company rejecting the Icy Pass route because of the high risk of erosion, slides and the need to construct numerous new access roads.

There is no mention of the Kemano or Icy Pass routes in either the 2014 submission from the Office of the Wet’suwet’en, nor in the B.C. Supreme Court injunction.

In that same 2014 letter, which Coastal GasLink has now published on its website, the company suggested using a “Morice River North” alternate route for approximately 55 km of the pipeline, which it said would take construction three to five kilometers away from the Unist’ot’en healing centre established by the hereditary chiefs in 2015.

In a statement posted on its website, Coastal GasLink said it never received a response to this offer, nor to any other aspects of the letter.

The Office of the Wet’suwet’en also did not respond to CBC’s query asking for a response to Coastal GasLink’s reasoning for rejecting the McDonnell Lake route.

“The route that has been selected reflects the best engineering, environmental, cultural and economically feasible criteria possible” Coastal GasLink said in an emailed statement to CBC.

“There is no route available to CGL that would avoid traditional Wet’suwet’en territory.… To change the route to avoid Wet’suwet’en territory at this date would require major environmental assessment work, which would not be feasible under the timelines to which we have committed.”

SOURCE

RELATED:

Benefits agreement asks First Nation to discourage members from hindering B.C. pipeline project

Global Financial Giants Swear Off Funding an Especially Dirty Fuel

The Syncrude Canada plant at the Athabasca oil sands near Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Credit…Ben Nelms/Bloomberg

 

Some of the world’s largest financial institutions have stopped putting their money behind oil production in the Canadian province of Alberta, home to one of the world’s most extensive, and also dirtiest, oil reserves.

In December, the insurance giant The Hartford said it would stop insuring or investing in oil production in the province, just weeks after Sweden’s central bank said it would stop holding Alberta’s bonds. And on Wednesday BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, said that one of its fast-growing green-oriented funds would stop investing in companies that get revenue from the Alberta oil sands.

They are among the latest banks, pension funds and global investment houses to start pulling away from fossil-fuel investments amid growing pressure to show they are doing something to fight climate change.

“If you look at how destructive oil sands can be, there’s a very strong rationale,” Armando Senra, head of BlackRock’s iShares Americas funds, said in an interview, saying that the oil sands, along with coal, are “the worst offenders, if you want, from a climate perspective.”

Despite the pressure from foreign investors, oil-sands production has continued to increase in part because local Canadian banks and pension funds have remained willing to lend. And, as Alberta’s government is quick to point out, some of the same companies pulling away from oil sands are continuing to invest in oil projects elsewhere in the world including in countries such as Saudi Arabia.

Nevertheless, the clash over foreign divestment in Alberta — and the strong response it has provoked from local leaders — suggests the potential for the financial industry to influence climate policy if firms follow through on their early pledges to incorporate climate change into their investment strategies.

Alberta, meanwhile, has fought back hard against the divestment. In April, voters elected a provincial leader who promised to punish companies that stopped financing the oil sands. Then, in December, Alberta opened what it called a war room to attack anyone perceived as criticizing the industry.

“We have been targeted by a foreign-funded campaign of special interests,” Alberta’s premier, Jason Kenney, said after winning office last year. “When multinational companies like HSBC boycott Alberta, we’ll boycott them.” HSBC, the largest bank in Europe, has said it will stop financing new oil sands developments.

Alberta officials didn’t immediately respond to questions about BlackRock’s announcement on Wednesday.

Financial institutions worldwide are coming under growing pressure from shareholders and activists to pull money from high-emitting industries. At the same time they are waking up to the fact that they have underestimated the climate-change risk in their portfolios.

Oil has made Alberta one of the wealthiest regions in North America, but the process of extracting petroleum from oil sands releases an unusually large volume of greenhouse gases. Because Alberta’s oil is locked in geological formations that make it particularly energy-intensive (and therefore environmentally damaging) to extract, it has provided an easy early target for investors eager to make a statement.

The oil sands have long been a target of environmentalists’ ire. But in 2017, the campaign against them shifted to the world of finance. That summer, the largest pension fund in Sweden, AP7, said it had divested from TransCanada, the company building Keystone XL, a pipeline to carry crude from the oil sands to the United States.

Other international lenders followed, announcing they would divest not only from pipelines but from oil-sands extraction projects as well. They include BNP Paribas Group and Société Générale of France, and Norway’s sovereign wealth fund

Premier Jason Kenney of Alberta in Ottawa in December. 
Credit…Blair Gable/Reuters

It wasn’t just financing that suddenly seemed at risk. Some of the world’s largest insurance companies, including AXA, Swiss RE and Zurich Insurance, announced they would stop providing coverage to projects in the oil sands, which are sometimes referred to as tar sands, as well as no longer investing money in those projects.

In December, the American insurer The Hartford said it would no longer insure or invest in companies that get more than a quarter of their revenue from oil sands or thermal coal mining. “We selected coal and tar sands because they have been identified as leading contributors to carbon emissions,” said David Robinson, the company’s general counsel.

Even large international oil companies began pulling out of the oil sands, including Shell in 2017.

A Shell representative said the company left because other companies with more oil-sands experience were better able to work there. But Andrew Leach, a professor of energy economics at the University of Alberta, said Shell was also responding to pressure from its own investors to pull out, given the high levels of greenhouse gases associated with oil extraction there.

“They were under significant pressure from their shareholders to pull out,” Dr. Leach said.

The latest blow came in December, when the rating company Moody’s downgraded the creditworthiness of Alberta’s debt to its lowest level in 20 years, citing, among other concerns, the province’s dependence on the oil sands and the environmental costs of extracting the oil.

In response to that pressure, Alberta has only increased its support of the oil sands.

Mr. Kenney, Alberta’s premier, has publicly vilified investors that left, complaining that some of those same investors also finance oil production in countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, which have lower greenhouse gas emissions per barrel but far worse human-rights records.

Mr. Kenney also promised to strip government contracts from companies such as HSBC and also threatened to put up billboards in the London subway, where the bank is based, intended to embarrass it for investing in Saudi Arabia while spurning Alberta.

Spokeswomen for HSBC and for Mr. Kenney both declined to say whether Alberta had canceled government contracts with the bank.

“I refuse to allow us to be lectured to by European banks and insurance companies” that do business with Middle Eastern oil producers, Mr. Kenney said in October. “We’re going to take that right to their doorsteps in Europe.”

After Moody’s downgraded the province in December, Mr. Kenney lumped it in with other global finance companies as biased, misinformed, or both.

“Increasingly, financial institutions, and this includes apparently Moody’s, are buying into the political agenda emanating from Europe,” Mr. Kenney said, adding that those institutions are often making decisions “based on data distorted, torqued data provided by green left pressure groups.”

HSBC said in 2018 it would pull out of investments in coal, oil sands, arctic drilling and other fossil fuel projects.
Credit…Brent Lewin/Bloomberg

Later that month, Alberta opened its war room, which has a budget of 30 million Canadian dollars and a mandate to rebut criticisms of the oil sands. One of its first items, which are designed to look like online news articles, attacked a nonprofit group that teaches schoolchildren about climate change and criticized school administrators for letting the group talk to Alberta students.

“The center will take a fact-based approach, counteracting myths and lies being spread about our province and about our energy sector,” Sonya Savage, Alberta’s energy minister, said of the war room, whose formal name is the Canadian Energy Center.

Oil sands extraction leads to about 70 percent more greenhouse gas per unit of energy on average than the global mean, according to research published in the journal Science in 2018 using data from 2015. Of the 90 countries whose oil extraction was studied, few generated more greenhouse gas per barrel.

The government’s antagonism toward overseas investors and other perceived critics reflects a political calculation, according to Melanee Thomas, a professor of political science at the University of Calgary: Railing against foreign influence plays well with conservative voters.

The problem with that approach, she said, is that the government has made it harder for voters or the oil sands industry to hear the message those banks are delivering: The world’s appetite for the most polluting fossil fuels is fading.

“The market’s already pointed in a particular direction,” Dr. Thomas said. “You can scream at it as it goes, but that’s not going to change it.”

In response to written questions for Mr. Kenney, his spokeswoman, Christine Myatt, wrote that investors should evaluate oil sands projects individually, adding that some projects have lower greenhouse gas emissions than others. “It is unscientific to draw a line around a region and say it is off-limits for investment,” Ms. Myatt said.

Mr. Kenney’s position “is not a campaign tactic,” she added. “It’s about responding to an existential threat to Alberta’s — and Canada’s — economy and to the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of Canadians.”

Despite the political rancor, the divestment campaign has yet to curtail production. More oil was extracted from the oil sands last year than during any previous year on record, according to data provided by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the industry’s trade group.

That’s partly because Canadian banks and pension funds have remained willing to lend. Those institutions are more wary than their global counterparts of prompting a backlash from the Canadian public, experts said.

Credit…Ian Willms/Getty Images

A senior Alberta official, speaking on the condition that he not be identified, said the frustration inside the government revolved around the belief that foreign investors are pulling out of the oil sands to earn the good will of environmentalists and activists. That tactic imposes no great sacrifice on those investors, the official said, since the returns from the energy industry have been low anyway compared with other industries.

The official also said the investors were ignoring progress that oil sands companies are making on greenhouse gas emissions, as well as the fact that some oil sands operations are closer to the global average on emissions.

The critics of divestment aren’t just in Alberta.

Michael Sabia, chief executive for the Caisse de Dépôt et Placement du Quebec, one of the country’s largest pension funds, said it continues to invest in oil sands companies, while pushing the companies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

SOURCE

“What does divestment get you? What you get is, you get a headline,” Mr. Sabia said in an interview. “But you haven’t done anything really to direct your organization to be a positive contributor to the energy transition that the world has to go through.”  SOURCE

Wall Street Invading Wet’suwet’en Territory

Wet’suwe

t’en fishing site on Bulkley River and the entrance of Moricetown Canyon, in Moricetown, British Columbia, Canada. Photograph Source: Jerome Charaoui – FAL

The uprising across Canada in support of Wet’suwet’en First Nation land defenders shows no sign of stopping. As of February 11, ports, bridges, rail lines, highways and roads have been blockaded across much of the country by solidarity protesters, who have also occupied the offices of politicians and at least one bank.

These actions were prompted by the RCMP’s invasion of Wet’suwet’en territory on February 5, after which they began arresting Indigenous members opposed to the 670 kilometers (416-mile), $6.2 billion Coastal GasLink pipeline being constructed on their unceded territory in B.C.

The Wet’suwet’en have never signed a treaty and in 1997 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that they hold “Aboriginal title” to the land on which the pipeline is being built.

The Coastal GasLink pipeline will carry fracked natural gas from northeastern B.C. to Kitimat, B.C., where a liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal is being built by LNG Canada – a partnership of Shell, Petronas, PetroChina, Mitsubishi, and Korean Gas.

While protesters have rightly condemned the RCMP actions, they (and the corporate media) have largely overlooked the role of a major player in this whole debacle: Wall Street titan Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co., better known as KKR.

Mega-Rich Titan

On December 26, 2019 KKR announced the signing of a “definitive agreement” to acquire – along with Alberta Investment Management Corporation (AIMCo) – a 65 percent equity interest in the Coastal GasLink Pipeline Project from TC Energy.

Only days later, on December 31, a B.C. Supreme Court judge extended an injunction to stop Wet’suwet’en members from blocking access to Coastal GasLink’s work camp. The injunction will reportedly be operative until the pipeline project is completed.

KKR is mega-rich, even by Wall Street standards. It has US$208 billion in assets under management and US$153 billion in fee-paying assets under management. [1] AIMCo has $108.2 billion in assets that it manages on behalf of 31 Alberta pension, endowment and government funds. [2]

KKR is what is now called a “private equity” firm – a rebranding of what used to be called “leveraged buyout firms,” which pump money into struggling companies and then re-sell them for major profits. In 2014, KKR opened an office in Calgary with a $2 billion fund to find Canadian energy investments, especially in unconventional oil and gas projects.

In its December 26, 2019 press release, KKR’s Brandon Freiman stated that “Coastal GasLink represents our third investment in infrastructure supporting Canada’s natural gas industry.”

When contacted, KKR’s media office told me that the “other projects Brandon was referring to in his quote are Veresen Midstream and SemCams Midstream.”

 

Buying Up Midstream

In oil-industry parlance, midstream refers to the equipment and pipelines that transport oil and gas from “upstream” production facilities to the “downstream” users such as refineries or LNG terminals.

Shortly after KKR set up its Calgary office, in December 2014 Encana Corp. sold its natural gas pipeline and processing assets in Western Canada’s Montney region to Veresen Inc. and KKR for $412 million. The deal allowed Encana to concentrate on drilling and fracking (“upstream”), while Veresen Midstream LP handles transportation and expansion of infrastructure. The assets sold in this deal “comprise those in the Dawson, B.C. area operated by Encana independently and in a partnership it has with Japan’s Mitsubishi Corp.” [3] At about the same time, the partnership committed to invest $5 billion of new midstream expansion in the Montney region.

By October 2015, that expansion included Veresen’s announcement of approval of the $860 million Sunrise Gas Plant, which can process 400 million cubic feet per day. Located near Dawson Creek, the Sunrise Gas Plant has been described as “the largest gas plant to be commissioned in western Canada in the last 30 years,” with Veresen Midstream’s President and CEO David Fitzpatrick stating that his company’s “footprint in the Montney will grow substantially.” [4]

KKR also entered into a joint venture with Energy Transfer on SemCams Midstream, which owns and operates six gas processing plants and 700 miles of natural gas pipelines in the Montney and Duvernay areas of Western Canada.

You may recall that Energy Transfer is the company involved in the Dakota Access Pipeline protests of 2016, when NoDAPL indigenous protesters from the Standing Rock reservation in the U.S. were met with severe corporate and state-supported opposition.

So KKR not only has a primary position in the midstream natural gas industry of Western Canada, it also has scandalously partnered with a company well-versed in stopping indigenous protests.

Greenwashing

Equally odious, in 2007 KKR teamed up with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) on something called the Green Portfolio Program through which participating companies could “develop eco-beneficial products and services and develop ways to grow revenue through environmental improvements.” [5]

That decade-long greenwashing effort has especially been useful for KKR’s financial investment in fracking. In 2012, Forbes magazine (not known for its radical environmentalism) singled out KKR in a piece called “Guess Who’s Fueling the Fracking Boom?”, revealing how KKR has been pumping money into expanded fracking by upstream drillers, and then flipping the companies in sales deals that bring billions in profits to KKR. [6]

Perhaps not surprisingly, KKR Global Institute’s Chair is David Petraeus, the former Director of the CIA, who has wholeheartedly endorsed fracking. [7]

In the KKR Global Institute’s latest report (issued on January 15, 2020), the company touts itself for partnering “with companies that mitigate climate change, enhance resilient development [and] protect water quality … As a result, ‘doing well by doing good’ remains a growing investment theme in KKR in 2020.” [8]

LNG Canada in Kitimat, where the Coastal GasLink pipeline will bring the fracked natural gas, has claimed that it will be the lowest carbon-emitting LNG plant in the world, and that LNG exports will substitute for dirtier fuels like coal. But critics such as the Pembina Institute and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives have seriously questioned this notion of LNG as a so-called “bridge fuel” to a low-carbon future, especially because of the methane leaks implicit in upstream, midstream and downstream processes. In terms of the climate emergency, methane is dozens of times more polluting than CO2.

Indeed, The Georgia Straight recently highlighted a statement by Stanford University professor Mark Z. Jacobson about methane leaks from an ExxonMobil fracking site: “Next time some paid liar in the fossil fuel industry insists fracked gas is helping solve the climate crisis, remind them a single @exxonmobil fracking site ‘leaked more methane in 20 days than all but 3 European nations over an entire year’.” [9]

Paid Liars

Wall Street’s KKR private equity titan appears to be packed with some very well-paid liars, who croon about “doing well by doing good” while invading Wet’suwet’en territory with their Coastal GasLink project and watching while the RCMP carry out the arrests. It’s time the focus should be placed on them. SOURCE

Virginia lawmakers pass major renewable energy legislation

Image result for virginia greenhouse gas targets

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The Virginia House and Senate passed sweeping energy legislation Tuesday that would overhaul how Virginia’s utilities generate electricity and, supporters say, move the state from the back of the pack to the forefront of renewable energy policy in the United States.

Critics, though, warned that the legislation, drafted privately by a group that included industry representatives and environmental advocates, strips state regulators of some oversight and leaves ratepayers on the hook for what could be excessive costs.

The measure, called the Clean Economy Act, lays out a plan to get Virginia to 100% renewable generation. The House version would demand that goal be met by 2045 and the Senate’s version sets a deadline of 2050, in line with a goal Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam set in an executive order in September.

Differences between the two versions will have to be worked out before the measure can be sent to Northam, whose administration has been involved in negotiating the bill.

In a floor speech, House sponsor Del. Rip Sullivan called the bill “transformative,” saying it would propel Virginia “into the future and into the top tier of states in terms of climate and energy policy.”

The legislation paves the way for an enormous expansion of solar and offshore wind generation plus battery storage , and sets an energy efficiency standard that utilities must meet. It also includes language that would add Virginia to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a carbon cap-and-trade program.

Both the House and Senate versions would effectively block new fossil fuel generation facilities in the short term while state officials study whether a permanent ban should be enacted. The House version contains a provision that says if state officials determine by 2028 that the greenhouse gas reductions are not on target, then there will be a moratorium on the issuance of permits for new fossil fuel-fired generating facilities by 2030.

Bill sponsors said in committee hearings that hundreds of hours of negotiations had gone into crafting the legislation. Participants in those talks included Dominion Energy, influential environmental groups including the Virginia League of Conservation Voters and the Southern Environmental Law Center, plus solar interests and Advanced Energy Economy, a national association of businesses.

The lawmakers carrying the measure have said it will help address climate change by moving Virginia toward a carbon-free future while creating thousands of good-paying jobs at the same time.

The bill clears the way for the development of up to 5,200 megawatts of offshore wind, which is costlier than other forms of renewable energy, by declaring it in the public interest. Dominion currently has a small pilot project underway and has previously announced plans for a 220-turbine project in federal waters.

Advocates have noted that a race is underway among East Coast states jockeying for a spot in a supply chain expected to develop for the nascent offshore wind industry. They say Virginia could reap thousands of new, high-paying manufacturing and construction jobs, a boost to the state’s port, and billions of dollars in private investment while supporting an industry that will help the environment.

But critics are raising concerns about the price tag.

“In this century, we now have technologies to produce electricity that are clean and cheap,” Tom Hadwin, a former utility executive who does consulting work for Virginia environmental groups and reviewed the legislation, wrote in an email. “This bill encourages the ‘clean’ but loses the ‘cheap.’”

Attorney General Mark Herring’s office has cautioned lawmakers that language in the bill expressly eliminates the State Corporation Commission’s role in determining whether “enormous costs” of implementing its plans are reasonable and prudent and therefore can be passed along to customers.

“In our view the legislation will prevent the regulator from being able to work to accomplish the Commonwealth’s clean energy goals in a manner consistent with ratepayer protections,” Senior Assistant Attorney General Meade Browder told a Senate committee considering the bill.

An SCC analysis of one version of the bill found that the typical residential customer would likely see an increase of $23.30 a month between 2027 and 2030. The legislation currently includes provisions intended to protect low-income people from seeing a rate increase.

The Senate sponsor of the bill, Sen. Jennifer McClellan, said she disagreed with the SCC’s analysis, in part because it didn’t consider the “staggering” cost of doing nothing.

“We have got to do something to break our dependence on energy that is destroying our planet. Period,” she said Tuesday. SOURCE