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Northwest U.S. Tribes Fight Proposed Canada Oil Pipeline That Threatens Salish Sea

Representatives from four Northwest tribes argued against oil spill risks, destructive increases in oil tanker traffic, and threats to treaty-reserved fishing rights posed by project
Members of the Tulalip Tribe sing along the banks of the Fraser River in Chilliwack, British Columbia, as part of a ceremony to honor the waters and marine life so integral to the Coast Salish way of life.

Members of the Tulalip Tribe sing along the banks of the Fraser River in Chilliwack, British Columbia, as part of a ceremony to honor the waters and marine life so integral to the Coast Salish way of life.

Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice
January 22, 2016
Burnaby, British Columbia —

An alliance of Northwest U.S. Treaty tribes, represented by Earthjustice, presented final arguments today against a proposed new tar sands pipeline in Canada. The TransMountain Pipeline Project, proposed by Texas oil giant Kinder Morgan, calls for tripling the amount of oil shipped from tar sands fields in Alberta from its present level of approximately 300,000 barrels per day to 890,000 barrels per day to the British Columbia coast.

Location of the Salish Sea.
The proposed tar sands pipeline expansion is one of several projects that would dramatically increase the passage of tankers and bulk carriers through the Salish Sea on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border.

The Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, Tulalip Tribes, Suquamish Tribe and Lummi Nation joined Canadian First Nations, conservationists, the cities of Vancouver and Burnaby, and the Province of British Columbia in a historic effort to reject the pipeline proposal and protect the Salish Sea.

The Northwest tribes are opposing the project as intervenors before Canada’s National Energy Board, the government body responsible for making a recommendation to the Canadian federal government on the future of the pipeline proposal.

Today’s arguments before Canada’s National Energy Board represent a critical and final call to safeguard the Salish Sea from increased oil tanker traffic and a greater risk of oil spills. Experts have acknowledged that a serious oil spill would devastate an already-stressed marine environment and likely lead to collapses in the remaining salmon stocks, further contamination of shellfish beds, and extinction of southern resident killer whales. If approved, the TransMountain Pipeline would instigate an almost seven-fold increase in oil tankers moving through the shared waters of the Salish Sea, paving way for a possible increase in groundings, accidents, and oil spills.

“The U.S. sovereign nations have treaty-reserved fishing rights and cultural heritage that are put at grave risk by the TransMountain project,” said Earthjustice attorney Kristen Boyles, who delivered the final arguments to the NEB on behalf of the U.S. tribes today. “Yet, TransMountain failed to consider or even talk with the U.S. tribes about their interests, in violation of both Canadian and international law. The tribes decided that they had to go to Canada and speak for themselves in opposing this pipeline.”

“The Salish Sea has faced the increase of vessel traffic and the potential threat to treaty fishing areas and resources, thus facing a threat of irreparable damage to salmon and shellfish on both sides of the border from a spill or accumulative oil spills,” said Swinomish Chairman Brian Cladoosby. “We are speaking directly to the Canadian regulators to highlight the risks of this pipeline to our lives, our culture, and the priceless waters of the Salish Sea.”

“The TransMountain Pipeline expansion threatens the ancient fishing grounds of the Suquamish Tribe.  Increased traffic disrupts fishing and the real threat of oil spills puts the Salish Sea at an unreasonable risk.  It is our duty as stewards to the Salish Sea to oppose this project,” said Suquamish Tribal Chairman Leonard Forsman.

“Our People have always depended upon the Salish Sea for their life and culture. We live in a time where corporations are making major errors in the way they extract natural resources, at all costs and risks,” said Chairman Tim Ballew II of the Lummi Nation. “We have to unite, with all others that believe they have no voice. We have to rally together and demand to be heard. There is too much to lose. We praise the (encyclical) statement of Pope Francis and his call for responsible government. As natives, as aboriginals, as indigenous peoples, we have argued that the Earth is Sacred and we should treat it with respect. We are gambling with the inherited rights of all our children. What type of Earth will we hand over to them, if we fail to speak out!  It is amazing that this type of decision can be made without consideration of the impacts to the Treaty Nations immediately south of the border, and in disregard to the interests of the United States itself? It is this disregard that our allies are concerned about.  In addition, both the USA and Canada have committed to the duties and obligations of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In light of that duty, we are demanding that consultations be held with all parties impacted.”

“We have a sacred duty to leave our future generations, our children, our children’s children, a healthy world,” said Mel Sheldon, Chairman of the Tulalip Tribes. “We will continue to oppose this project because it further threatens the Salish Sea with reckless increases in oil tanker traffic and increased risk of catastrophic oil spill.”

The proposed tar sands pipeline expansion is one of several projects that would dramatically increase the passage of tankers and bulk carriers through the Salish Sea on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border. In addition to oil, regulators in both countries are reviewing controversial proposals to export huge quantities of U.S. coal. Taken together, these projects would greatly increase the risk of oil spills and other accidents that threaten the Coast Salish economies and cultures.

Take a look into our fight to protect the Salish Sea, here.
Read our FAQ on the proposed Kinder Morgan TransMountain pipeline expansion, here
View our case page for additional files, including final arguments.