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06/18/2014 12:37 EDT | Updated 08/18/2014 05:59 EDT

The Pipeline Isn't a 'Nation Builder,' It's a Call For a People's Intervention

Anyone claiming this pipeline is a done deal is ignoring the fact that Enbridge faces a major uphill battle. The federal government's approval of the pipeline was likely the easiest hurdle that Enbridge had to jump. The Harper government and Big Oil are looking East because they think it is an easier road to tar sands expansion than the road to the West. We can turn this project that Stephen Harper calls a "nation builder" into a movement builder. Energy East, its review and Harper's pipeline plans need a People's Intervention. Now it's our chance to give it to them. It is easy to approve a pipeline, but a whole lot harder to build one.

Don Wilkie via Getty Images

Yesterday, Stephen Harper and his cabinet delivered their long awaited, albeit predictable, approval of the Northern Gateway pipeline. Of course this is a big deal. But what does it really mean?

First of all, it means that anyone claiming this pipeline is a done deal is ignoring the fact that Enbridge faces a major uphill battle. The federal government's approval of the pipeline was likely the easiest hurdle that Enbridge had to jump, yet even that took nearly a decade to do so since announcing the project.

Future hurdles will likely include countless legal challenges from First Nations and communities along the route, as well as thousands of people who have pledged to do whatever it takes to stop the pipeline. The public opposition has proven that the chance of even an inch of this pipe being laid in the near future, if ever, is slim to nil.

Secondly, it means that pipeline resistance may need to grow in all directions as politicians and pipeline companies look east. TransCanada Inc.'s Energy East pipeline project would carry 1.1-million barrels a day from the Tar Sands to the Atlantic Ocean. This means we not only need to build opposition to the pipeline, but also that we need to get serious about stopping tar sands expansion and climate pollution in Canada.

We need to get serious, because the Conservative government clearly is not. In their statement on the Gateway decision, the Conservatives hid behind the 209 conditions placed on Enbridge by the National Energy Board (NEB). They lauded the review even though it was clearly flawed as it didn't even consider climate impacts from the extraction and burning of tar sands, notorious for being the worst types of oil for the climate. The review process also clearly ignored public testimonies, which found 1000 people against and only two in favour. If the review process for Northern Gateway is any indication of what the Energy East review project will be, then it's time to call this process out for what it is -- a sham.

But as TransCanada gets ready to file its proposal for the Energy East pipeline this summer, we see that the review is becoming even more flawed. Still ignoring climate impacts -- although this time for a pipeline with a carbon footprint larger than any Atlantic province -- the Energy East review will only hear from those "directly affected" by the project, a vague term defined by the review panel itself. Once you realize that Energy East crosses six provinces, hundreds of communities, thousands of bodies of water, and over 150 First Nations communities, the concept of "directly affected" becomes ridiculous. It then becomes ludicrous when you find out that it will add an additional 32-million tonnes of CO2 to the atmosphere -- the same as putting seven-million cars on the road.

Having globally committed to limiting warming to two degrees, Canada's fossil fuel industry should theoretically be leaving upwards of 80 per cent of known reserves underground -- especially the highest carbon polluting fuels like tar sands. In fact, according the International Energy Agency, a two degree climate limit would mean abandoning up to two thirds of approved tar sands projects -- the very thing these pipelines are being built to expand. Ignoring climate change in NEB reviews is a shrewd step for the Harper government to not only sidestep its commitments, but to try and stop us from talking about it as well.

Regardless, we know that Harper has no plans to meet his global commitments on climate. But what about the opposition parties? Today both Thomas Mulcair and Justin Trudeau pledged that if either were elected Prime Minister, they would overturn this approval immediately. Both party leaders have called out Harper's climate record, and Mulcair's party even resurrected the Climate Change Accountability Act this week. While it is great to hear politicians talking climate in the media, both men have been publicly supportive of the Energy East pipeline. Unfortunately for them, you simply cannot build a million-barrel-a-day tar sands pipeline and be serious about climate action.

It seems like people in Canada have done the math, since resistance is already flourishing in communities along the Energy East route. The Harper government and Big Oil are looking East because they think it is an easier road to tar sands expansion than the road to the West. We can turn this project that Stephen Harper calls a "nation builder" into a movement builder. Energy East, its review and Harper's pipeline plans need a People's Intervention. Now it's our chance to give it to them.

It is easy to approve a pipeline, but a whole lot harder to build one.

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