In an extended interview, Eriel Deranger, executive director of Indigenous Climate Action, responds to the Canadian government’s plan to purchase Kinder Morgan’s highly contested Trans Mountain pipeline. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has vowed to commit taxpayer money to expanding the pipeline despite widespread indigenous-led protests and a slew of lawsuits. If built, it will triple the amount of oil flowing from Alberta’s tar sands to the coast of British Columbia. The decision has sparked widespread condemnation from First Nations and environmental activists, who say that expanding the pipeline will increase pollution in Alberta’s tar sands region, endanger indigenous communities and increase greenhouse gas emissions.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh, with Part 2 of our discussion with the indigenous rights leader in Canada, Eriel Deranger.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: We continue our look at how Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced that the Canadian government will purchase Kinder Morgan’s highly contested Trans Mountain pipeline, vowing to commit taxpayer money to expanding the pipeline despite widespread indigenous-led protests and a slew of lawsuits. If built, the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion will triple the amount of oil flowing from Alberta’s tar sands to the coast of British Columbia.
Oil giant Kinder Morgan had said that if legal challenges were not resolved by May 31st, it would abandon plans to build the proposed pipeline expansion. The Canadian government stepped in and purchased the pipeline for 4.5 billion Canadian dollars—that’s 3.5 billion American dollars—just days before this deadline.
AMY GOODMAN: The decision has sparked widespread condemnation from First Nations and environmental activists, who say the expanding pipeline will increase pollution in Alberta’s tar sands region, endanger indigenous communities and increase greenhouse gas emissions.
For more, we’re continuing in Edmonton, Canada, where we’re joined by Eriel Deranger, the executive director of Indigenous Climate Action, a member of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, recently wrote a piece for Canada’s National Observer headlined “I Feel Betrayed by the Government and a System That Has Destroyed the Spirit of My People.”
Eriel, thanks for staying with us for Part 2 of this discussion. So, the two key issues—the significance of the Canadian government buying up the pipeline, the Trans Mountain pipeline, with Justin Trudeau—there was a big protest where people were carrying signs that said “Crudeau Oil,” as like a play on “Trudeau” and “crude oil”—the government buying the pipeline, Trudeau saying that this is part of how he will be fighting climate change, and also, where you are, the Alberta tar sands. We all became familiar in the United States with the Alberta tar sands from the Keystone XL. And the significance of particularly going for the oil there?
ERIEL DERANGER: Yeah. You know, what’s going on here, it’s just absolutely flabbergasting that this government, which was elected on huge promises to address both the climate and the legacy of sort of harm to indigenous communities across the country, is just—it’s just astounding that—what we’re seeing here. This is a government that is taking the interests of corporations over the interests of people—and, largely, indigenous people.
We have, for years, spoken out against the harm that this industry has caused in the region. Yes, it has brought economic prosperity. Yes, it has brought jobs. But it’s also brought with it contamination. It’s also brought with it pollution. And it has also brought with it massive amounts of carbon emissions, that we absolutely can’t afford in a climate crisis. The rights of indigenous communities continue to be eroded and sacrificed so corporations can continue to profit. But what we’re seeing now is that a government has gone from supporting fossil fuel companies that violate indigenous rights to actually becoming one themselves.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, let’s go to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaking Tuesday about how his decision to buy the highly contested Kinder Morgan pipeline is in the national interest.
PRIME MINISTER JUSTIN TRUDEAU: The project became too risky for a commercial entity to go forward with it. That’s what Kinder Morgan told us. So, we are now in the position where we, because this project is in the national interest—national economic interest, national interest in moving forward in our climate plan and getting a price on pollution across the country—we’ve stepped in. We’re going to get that pipeline built. And we don’t intend to be the—in the pipeline business for the long term. There is a very strong business case for this pipeline. But we are going to ensure that it gets built, so that we can get our resources to new markets.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: So that’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaking on Tuesday. Eriel, could you respond to this, the fact that he said it was too risky?
ERIEL DERANGER: You know, that’s just it. It is too risky. It’s too risky for, you know, a multinational corporation, conglomerate, Kinder Morgan, to take on. And yet he wants that risk to be taken on by the Canadian public. And that’s just something that I just don’t understand. It’s risky not just because of the economic risks associated with the project, but it’s risky because of the—it has no social license. The social license for this project has been lost. And that’s what Trudeau is trying to do. He’s trying to buy the social license of this project by owning it themselves.
But the reality is, is that the First Nations communities are not going to drop their legal suits. The municipalities aren’t going to drop their legal suits. And First Nations communities are going to continue to fight for the protection and preservations not just of their lands and territories, but of their cultural internationally recognized rights. And Trudeau can’t buy and get rid of those rights just by purchasing this pipeline.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Elizabeth May, Canada’s Green Party leader, responding to the news that Canada has purchased the Trans Mountain, the Kinder Morgan, pipeline for four-and-a-half billion Canadian dollars. That’s three-and-a-half billion American dollars.
ELIZABETH MAY: Canada has just committed, just in terms of buyer beware, an historic blunder with taxpayer dollars. … The 4.5 billion announced by Finance Minister Morneau and Natural Resources Minister Carr this morning, 4.5 billion, is to buy the existing infrastructure, the existing asset. Building the expansion is another blank check, but this time the government of Canada will be writing the check to itself, because there is no private-sector investor. They’ve announced that they will try to find a private-sector investor. I submit that if there were private-sector investors, Kinder Morgan would have found them. Kinder Morgan has been looking for investors and looking for long-term contracts ever since they announced this project in 2013, and they’ve come up empty.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Elizabeth May, Canada’s Green Party leader, responding to the news that her government, that the Canadian government, has purchased the Trans Mountain pipeline. Eriel Deranger, if you can talk about how you and many others in Canada, also joining together with many environmental activists in the United States, have made the investment too risky for private corporations, where you see now the Canadian government is going to be seeking and cultivating private investors to say this is safe?
ERIEL DERANGER: You know, for the last decade, I’ve been involved in a campaign to really bring the truth out about what the Alberta oil sands is bringing to the region. It’s not just jobs and economic prosperity, but it’s bringing contamination and a legacy to the violation of indigenous rights. We have participated in massive protests outside of the White House, outside of Parliament in Canada. We have talked to investors at shareholder meetings, financial-sector meetings in Europe and the U.K. This is a long-standing battle, where we have tried to bring the fact that these projects are in direct—direct—violation of environmental and indigenous rights here in this country.
And what we’ve seen is that companies and banks are not investing, and they’re no longer continuing to work in this territory, in this region. And this really—this attempt by Trudeau is really this last-ditch effort to try and hold and keep together the last remaining sort of credibility, whatever there is left, of this industry. The reality is, you can’t get rid of the fact that this industry continues, to this day, to violate the environmental and human and indigenous rights of communities in the extraction zone, along the pipeline corridors, and brings huge, tremendous risks to the indigenous communities along the coastal—in the coastal waters of British Columbia and into Washington state. These projects have massive, massive costs to our communities, and we can’t ignore this. And this sort of—this idea, that we can just buy our way out of this problem and create the social license, is absolutely backwards.
AMY GOODMAN: And tar sands, in particular? Explain what tar sands oil is, why it’s so difficult and expensive to extract from the earth?
ERIEL DERANGER: Yeah, you know, that’s one of the biggest things, is that we’re not getting investors in these projects because tar sands itself is not your conventional, sweet crude oil. It needs to be refined multiple times in order for it to be marketable and sold on the markets. But before that, the extraction process itself is highly energy-intensive and highly water-intensive, because it’s not like your sweet crude oil. It is like peanut butter. So it’s really thick and sticky. It’s mixed with clay and other minerals. And to extract it, they have to take massive amounts of fresh water from the water systems—and, in this case, the Athabasca Delta water systems—and then they have to super-heat it, mix it with chemicals to sort of separate the oil from the sand. And then, once they do that, it’s still not—it’s still not ready. It’s got to be refined again and again. And they ship it through these pipelines, and it’s much more corrosive, and it’s heavy. It’s like a heavy oil that literally sinks when it hits water. It doesn’t float like your conventional sweet crude oil, as well.
And the other byproduct through the extraction process is that using this massive amount of water, that’s super-heated, which we use natural gas to do that, they then have to create these massive tailings ponds that are associated. So this byproduct, this dirty water, is highly toxic, so toxic to the point that in 2008 a flock of ducks, of 1,606 ducks, landed on one of these open tailings, that look like lakes and cover the landscape to the tune of 260 square kilometers—landed in one, and they all died. Animals die every single year landing or trying to water in one of these tailings ponds that litter the landscapes in Alberta. We don’t have a strategy in this province for the cleanup. We have a legacy that is going to last hundreds of years in this region, and it’s the First Nations communities that are going to bear the brunt of the consequences of the mismanagement of this resource.
AMY GOODMAN: Eriel, we just have this tweet from Bill McKibben: “Meet the planet’s newest oil executive, Justin Trudeau. The new face of global warming.” And, Nermeen, you have the piece in The Guardian that Bill McKibben wrote.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, in this piece in The Guardian, McKibben writes, “In case anyone wondered, this is how the world ends: with the cutest, progressivest, boybandiest leader in the world going fully in the tank for the oil industry.” He concludes the piece by saying, “Now it’s Trudeau who owns the razor wire, Trudeau who has to battle his own people. All in the name of pouring more carbon into the air, so he can make the oil companies back at the Alberta end of his pipe a little more money. We know now how history will remember Justin Trudeau: not as a dreamy progressive, but as one more pathetic employee of the richest, most reckless industry in the planet’s history.” Eriel, your response?
ERIEL DERANGER: You know, Bill hit the nail right on the head. This is exactly it. I really hope that this opens up the eyes to the rest of the world that Justin Trudeau is not that pretty-boy progressive that he’s painted himself to be. The reality is, is that this isn’t the first mark on his term. One of the first things he did when he was elected was to approve massive LNG ports in British Columbia—again, absolutely counter to his promises, not just to indigenous communities, but to climate change. We’re seeing this now, not just the approval of the Kinder Morgan, but the buying out of Kinder Morgan. And we’re seeing continued approvals in Alberta’s oil sands.
AMY GOODMAN: Eriel Deranger, I want to thank you for being with us, executive director of Indigenous Climate Action, a member of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, speaking to us from Edmonton, in Alberta, Canada.
To see Part 1 of our discussion with Eriel, you can go to democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh. Thanks so much for joining us.