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People Power Defeats an Oil Pipeline in Canada

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Indigenous and environmental groups are celebrating TransCanada’s cancellation of the Energy East tar sands pipeline, and setting their sights on the next fight

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AARON MATÉ: It’s The Real News. I’m Aaron Maté. Activists in Canada are celebrating what is being called a victory for people over pipelines. The energy company TransCanada has announced it is canceling the proposed Energy East pipeline that would’ve moved crude oil from the Alberta tar sands to Canada’s east coast. The Energy East is one of several major pipelines that have faced heavy protests from indigenous and environmental groups, and its defeat has raised hopes that those pipelines will meet the same fate.

Mike Hudema is a climate and energy campaigner with Greenpeace Canada. Mike, welcome.

MIKE HUDEMA: Thanks. It’s good to be here, Aaron.

AARON MATÉ: Good to have you. The CEO of TransCanada said the project has been canceled because of the project’s inability to reach a regulatory decision. What happened here?

MIKE HUDEMA: What happened here was a people-powered movement that rose up to stop this pipeline. It’s a movement that was led by First Nations and indigenous communities, by trade unionists and environmentalists all coming together to delay this pipeline, and now to eventually stop it. This is a huge win for people today.

AARON MATÉ: Didn’t TransCanada already put a lot of money into this project?

MIKE HUDEMA: Yeah. In today’s announcement, TransCanada is losing about one billion dollars, and so it’s quite a significant loss, and it should be a pretty big message to the investment community that these pipelines are very risky business and your investors and your shareholders are at risk of losing significant amounts if they’re found to be on the wrong side.

AARON MATÉ: But what was their calculation? Why would they put close to a billion dollars into a project and then just walk away from it?

MIKE HUDEMA: Really it was because of the number of roadblocks that were in the way of this pipeline. You had significant First Nation opposition. You had environmental and union opposition. In addition to that, the economics for tar sands oil are dropping and diminishing all the time because of how costly it is to produce.

In addition to that, because of the pushing of a wide coalition of groups, the Canadian government was forcing TransCanada to basically put this pipeline to a climate test, and I think they knew that when they added up all the greenhouse gas emissions that would be produced from this pipeline and the expansion of the tar sands that it would enable, that there is no way that it would have been able to meet that test. TransCanada really was just cutting its losses.

AARON MATÉ: Talk about that in terms of the overall context of the tar sands, because there’s that famous line about the tar sands from the climate scientist James Hansen, I believe, who says that if we extract the oil from there, it’s game over for the planet.

MIKE HUDEMA: The tar sands are one of the largest energy projects on the planet, and of course they have a carbon footprint to match. Already, over 70 million tons of carbon are being emitted from the tar sands alone, and these pipelines are designed to expand that damage. What we’ve seen is we’re in the midst of a climate crisis. We’ve seen the impacts of that with the latest rounds of climate charged hurricanes to hit the US. We’re seeing that with wildfires increasing in ferocity and size all over the planet. This is a planet in trouble, and the last thing we should be doing is expanding the problem, and that’s what new pipelines do. This is a big victory today for people that care about the climate, but there’s three more tar sands pipelines that we still need to confront.

AARON MATÉ: You mentioned that there was union opposition to this pipeline, but what about the union support? Because in their press release today, TransCanada mentioned that they had support from unions. What do you say to those who say, like the Conservatives are saying now in Canada, the Conservative Party are saying that this will hurt jobs, especially in New Brunswick where they say jobs were going to be created that no longer will be?

MIKE HUDEMA: Definitely there were unions on both sides of this issue, but I think the thing that’s clear is that the economics for tar sands and the economics for oil overall are changed, and it’s time that we adapt to that change. The industries that used to create jobs are no longer the industries that are going to be creating jobs in our future. The world is moving away from fossil fuels. We saw an announcement just yesterday of Chevy announcing that all of their vehicles are going to be electric vehicles in the near future. That’s a sign of a world shifting away from oil resources.

The jobs this pipeline would’ve created were mostly temporary jobs, and the jobs that we can create now that this investment can move elsewhere, if we invest that smartly in things like renewable energy, clean technology, clean transportation, are going to far outnumber what that number would’ve been.

AARON MATÉ: I think it’s a very key issue. These energy pipelines, in terms of jobs, are often spoken about as a zero-sum issue, that the absence of these pipelines means there’s no jobs, but of course you’re pointing to the fact that just because a pipeline isn’t being built doesn’t mean that there isn’t potential to create jobs elsewhere, and in fact more jobs.

Let me ask you, as the pipeline fight continues, you mentioned there are other fights ongoing. What are the key pipelines that environmentalists like you are posing now, and what are, do you think, the odds of stopping them?

MIKE HUDEMA: There are three tar sands pipelines still left on the table. That’s Keystone XL, and of course right now it’s battleground Nebraska, where right now the pipeline doesn’t have a route through the state of Nebraska and groups are pushing to ensure that it never has a route through the state of Nebraska. In addition to that, Enbridge is looking to expand its pipeline in a project called Line 3, which would be the largest ever Enbridge pipeline expansion. The main battleground for that pipeline is in the state of Minnesota, where, again, that pipeline doesn’t have its permit, and it’s currently right now in hearings.

Then, the third pipeline is the Kinder Morgan pipeline, and that’s where I am in Vancouver, British Columbia, where that pipeline is right now being challenged in court. For the next two weeks, we will hear from First Nations, from municipalities, from the province of B.C., that have all stood up and said that this pipeline is not in our best interest.

There’s three fronts that we’re fighting on. I think that there is good chance that we’re going to win each one, and investors should be worried and get on the right side of history and start moving their money today.

AARON MATÉ: Without activism, without people protesting, putting their bodies on the line, do you think any of these pipelines would be up for even debate?

MIKE HUDEMA: No. I think these pipelines would already be in the ground if it wasn’t for people power stopping them. I think you’ve seen the battle around the Keystone XL pipeline, which is almost a decade-long fight, and it’s people that have delayed that pipeline. Now we’re seeing the economics start to drop out to reinforce what we’ve been saying all along, that there is no future in continuing to rely on fossil fuels and oil and pollution that endangers our entire climate. It’s time for a different way. Solutions are taking root all over this planet all the time, and it’s time that that’s where we shifted our focus.

AARON MATÉ: Mike Hudema, climate and energy campaigner with Greenpeace Canada, thank you.

MIKE HUDEMA: Thanks so much.

AARON MATÉ: And thank you for joining us on The Real News.