A Question of Process

Grassroots Challenging Big Money

"Chilliwack turns down $800,000 donation from oil pipeline giant Kinder Morgan"

"Chilliwack says no to $800G but Kinder Morgan still optimistic"

You may have seen those headlines. It was a win for Chilliwack that demonstrated both that residents are engaged and that City Council are up to taking a principled stand in the face of a very tempting industry offer.

The Backstory...

On Friday of the May long weekend, the Chilliwack Progress ran news that at Tuesday's Council meeting the City would decide whether to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that if Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project gets the go-ahead from the National Energy Board (NEB) Chilliwack would receive $800,000 from Kinder Morgan toward a new pedestrian bridge over the Vedder River.

The City of Chilliwack is a commenter in the NEB hearing on the pipeline. Commenters get one opportunity to submit a letter of comment to the NEB. We checked--no, the City had not submitted their letter yet. To us at WaterWealth, offering anyone in a hearing money that depends on the outcome of the hearing seemed a lot like this...

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No one would stand for that in a court hearing. Why is it allowed in an NEB hearing?

We watched for the agenda package to go up on the City website. We read the staff report recommending the MOU, and the draft MOU itself. We looked at what other communities were doing with Kinder Morgan's Community Benefits Program and which of those communities were also commenters or intervenors in the hearing. Then early on the holiday Monday we began spreading the word. We shared the staff report with key supporters. We wrote a blog post and followed that up with posts on Facebook and Twitter. We sent an email to Chilliwack residents on our supporter list. We laid out our thoughts on the subject and asked people to call, write or email the City with their thoughts before the Tuesday meeting.

We weren't sure what to expect on a holiday, but the response was amazing! Our Facebook post reached 450 people in the first half hour and didn't slow down until over 4,300 people had seen it. There were calls and emails from community members and media. Other groups in the community such as Council of Canadians and the PIPE UP Network raised the issue with their supporters. People overwhelmingly agreed that Kinder Morgan's offer was inappropriate under the circumstances. (In fact we found ourselves thinking "If we had a dollar for every person who agrees....")

At the Tuesday meeting after some discussion City Council agreed, voting unanimously to defer doing a deal with Kinder Morgan until after the decision by the NEB.

Lingering Questions

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Image: Brian Turner

We are proud that our home community, the first in the Fraser Valley to make a decision on a Community Benefits offer from Kinder Morgan, took a principled stand. We hope it sets the example for other Fraser Valley communities.

Still, We are left wondering why the NEB allows these offers to be made to communities with standing in the hearing? So far 15 communities are involved in 12 Community Benefits Agreements with Kinder Morgan. Three of those communities are intervenors. In the NEB hearing, intervenors had two opportunities to ask questions of Kinder Morgan (Information Request #1 and #2) and one opportunity to submit written evidence. The deadlines for those have all passed.

Looking at those three intervenor communities:

District of Clearwater: • Signed a $390,000 Community Benefit Agreement.
• Submitted no information requests or written evidence.
District of Hope: • Signed a $500,000 Community Benefit Agreement.
• Submitted no information requests or written evidence.
City of Kamloops: • Signed a $700,000 Community Benefit Agreement.
• Submitted no Information Request #1 and no written evidence.

Did the money influence the participation of those communities in the process? One hopes not of course, but does a proper process even allow room for that question to arise? As an intervenor, we have submitted a motion to the National Energy Board calling on them to tell Kinder Morgan to stop making these deals with commenters and intervenors in the hearings and to make null and void such agreements already made. Watch for updates as that unfolds.

kokanee_1_250w.jpgWaterWealth are an intervenor in the NEB hearing because we saw a need to protect the pure, clear water that flows down the mountains over the pipeline route, and the water the City and many private wells in the region rely on for drinking water and other uses. Our shared home waters are a natural heritage that is key to the beauty of the region we call home and to important sectors of the local economy, directly and through spin-off activities connected to farming, recreation, tourism, and fisheries.

The NEB process is challenging for a local non-profit. Starting with getting through an application process that saw 452 intervenor applicants downgraded to commenter and 468 applications turned down altogether. Then came grappling with Kinder Morgan's 15,000 page application to the NEB and the fact that many details were, and still are, unknown about the exact route and engineering. We put in two respectable information requests, one of which was used as a reference in a provincial government information request. We did not submit expert written evidence, not for lack of desire to but for lack of funding. We have actually had no funding for our NEB hearing work.

There is still plenty of work to be done in the process, as can be seen from the NEB hearing schedule found here. The direction we take may depend on the response by the NEB to our motion. Many, such as former BC Hydro CEO and 40-year energy sector veteran Marc Eliesen, economist and former president and CEO of ICBC Robyn Allan, and recently our friends the Watershed Watch Salmon Society have pulled out of the process, stating that the NEB panel "is engaged in a public deception" and calling the process "a farce", "rigged", and "flawed".

Do we continue in the NEB process? Do we join the growing movement calling for BC to withdraw from the NEB process and to conduct a made-in-BC process--one that might include climate change in its deliberations? These are topics of discussion at WaterWealth and we would be happy to hear your input on what direction to take. Rest assured that whatever direction it ends up being we will pursue it with the same tenacity that saw us play a role in the Water Sustainability Act getting passed, the Mountain Slough dredging being shelved, the Aevitas hazardous waste proposal being withdrawn, and the City being supported to do the right thing in response to Kinder Morgan's money offer.

We're committed to speaking up for our shared home waters, but WaterWealth runs largely on your donations! Our work is often too political for granting foundations. None of those wins listed above had any funding. We have also chosen not to register as a charity, in order to ensure that our voice--your voice--for water is not constrained by Canada Revenue Agency restrictions. If you are able to help either as a monthly donor or with a one time donation ... well, as our logo says;

"Our Wealth is in Our Water, Let's Protect it!"

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commented 2015-06-05 19:20:15 -0700 · Flag
It seems to me that a withdrawal from the glaringly-flawed NEB review process (see cartoon above, etc.) – is an important and principled stand to take.

It’s also important not to do so in the dark.
Parties taking such a stand need to proclaim it loud and far, to prevent industry painting it falsely as “no one opposes, we’re good to go”.

And WE ALL need to help.