Economics Over Environment: From Moran Dam to Enbridge

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From Moran Dam to Enbridge: The Danger of Focusing on Economics Over Environment
by Rafe Mair l The Canadian.org
Robyn Allan is the former President and CEO of the Insurance Corporation of BC and is an economist by trade. I have enormous respect for Ms. Allan and concur with her conclusion, stated frequently and as recently as July 6 in The Vancouver Sun, that the proposed Enbridge Pipeline will have a deleterious impact on the Canadian economy generally and that of BC in particular.
 
Fraser Canyon which powerful interests
fought for decades to dam.
 
The economics of this huge issue are, of course, very important to the decision making process and to the decision itself. My caveat is, however, to dwell on the economy brings with it great risks.
 
The argument is the same one respecting dams and fish.
 
If one were to debate a dam on the Fraser River near Lytton, the economic argument is all in favour of the dam. While the salmon runs to be ruined will cost the province and those who fish a lot of money, that is offset by the enormous financial gains from the dam itself many, many times over. In fact such a dam, called the Moran, has been on the drawing board since late in the 2nd World War when it was pushed by the federal government. Premier WAC Bennett raised this issue again in the 1960s and was only stopped by the outcry of those who put the heritage of our salmon ahead of the incredible profits that would come from a huge dam.
 
Here are the stats according to Wikipedia:
 
The dam would have been 261 metres (856 ft) high, generating as much power on average as Grand Coulee Dam and twice of Hoover Dam combined – much of this energy would have been sold to the north-western United States. It would form a gigantic reservoir 260 kilometres (160 mi) long, containing some 35.4 cubic kilometres (28,700,000 acre·ft) of water at maximum pool reaching almost to the town of Quesnel. A significant portion of this capacity would be reserved for flood control.
 
The argument that our Pacific salmon are worth more than money prevailed then – would it prevail today if the issue was revived, which I’m certain will happen?
 
With the proposed Enbridge Pipeline, the financial benefits are not worth the candle, as Ms. Allan so clearly and accurately says. The trouble is that the governments won’t pay the slightest attention to her or to The Common Sense Canadian’s economist, Erik Andersen. There will be a barrage of one-liners about progress, jobs, blah blah blah, so that economic truths will be trumped by public relations.
 
The environmental implications of the proposed pipeline are serious beyond belief. We’re talking 1,100 km, over 1000 rivers and streams. My point to Robyn is that before we get to economics, let’s see what this pipeline will do.
 
Enbridge has an appalling environmental record – about one rupture or spill per week. There is no question that if the pipeline goes through there will be multiple spills. And as Ms. Allan astutely points out, due to the shell corporation structure Enbridge has set up to own and operate the pipeline, their liability for a spill will be severely limited (by design, of course), leaving British Columbians holding the bag for cleanup costs.
 
The substance being transported is not crude oil as we understand it, but bitumen, a near solid, which unlike other oils, sinks like a stone, and is infinitely more toxic. Enbridge has shown in the Kalamazoo River case that it simply cannot completely clean up, even when it can easily bring workers and machinery into the area.
 
The Northern Gateway pipeline goes through some of the least accessible places it the world, where the only way to get in is by helicopter. There is no way in the world that workers and equipment could be brought to the site and even if they could, the damage from the spill could never be properly cleaned up.
 
It’s interesting to note that Enbridge and its supporters sneer at the possibility that they would have to file plans for crossing 1000 rivers and streams – this, they say, is absurd.
 
I ask why is it absurd? The common environmental requirement for pipelines is that they must file plans for crossing watercourses - why should that not be the case just because there are a lot of watercourses?
 
In conclusion, I thoroughly agree with Robyn Allan but simply say we shouldn’t let ourselves get to the spot where the economics are considered.  
 
 
 

Rafe Mair was a B.C. MLA 1975 to 1981, Minister of Environment from late 1978 through 1979. Since 1981 he has been a radio talk show host, and is recognized as one of B.C.'s pre-eminent journalists.

Website: rafeonline.com/
 

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