Art Sterritt of the Coastal First Nations says the organization simply does not have the money to participate in the Enbridge hearings.

Coastal First Nations don’t have the funds to participate in Enbridge hearings

Coastal First Nations don’t have the funds to participate in Enbridge hearings

Coastal First Nations could not afford to participate in last week’s Joint Review Panel (JRP) on the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline in Prince Rupert.

Lengthy proceedings and a lack of cash have forced Coastal First Nations to quit the federal review hearings on the Northern Gateway pipeline proposal.

“We can’t afford to be there is really what it boils down to. It’s really very simple,” said Art Sterritt, the group’s executive director.

He says his group has run out of time and patience as the hearings drag on, and the $280,000 it was allotted for the proceedings is no match for the $250 million he says Enbridge is spending on its legal team.

“We haven’t been getting clear answers, and so we’ve had to use legal help. Having done that has cost us a lot of money, and it’s not money we have,” Sterritt said.

He says having the group that represents nine Aboriginal bands leave the hearings means there won’t be a proper review of Enbridge’s claims about the safety of plans to pipe oil across northern B.C. to Kitimat for shipment overseas.

“There are many ways to get the questions across, but the reality is we’re really the ones that are on the front lines of impact,” he said. “The questions are pertinent when they come from us. We know the consequences of all this stuff.”

An environmental panel resumed hearings last week in Prince Rupert with this round expected to focus on Enbridge’s plans for responding to emergencies like oil spills.

“This is a David and Goliath scenario,” said Art Sterritt. “It seems the only party that can afford this long and extended hearing process is Enbridge and, perhaps, the Federal Government. The average citizen can’t afford to be here and the Coastal First Nations cannot afford to be here.”

“We planned to ask questions that included: does diluted bitumen sink; how quickly can a spill be responded to and how effective can cleanup be; how long will spilled oil remain in the ecosystem and what are the costs of a spill cleanup and who will pay.”

It is clear that more scientific study is needed on emergency preparedness, he said.  “Despite the lack of information it is continuing with the process. Ultimately this means the JRP will not have the information it needs to make an informed recommendation and that in turn means the Federal Government will be making decisions not based on science.”

The funding disparity isn’t the only JRP issue the Coastal First Nations is unhappy with.  “We are dismayed with the nature of the hearing process itself. Enbridge witnesses are not answering questions or their answers are self-serving and non-responsive. We see cross-examination answers by Enbridge witnesses, which are crafted with, or provided by, other persons sitting behind these witnesses who cannot be cross-examined. This does not seem fair to us at all.”

“We had agreed to participate in this process on the basis that the JRP was going to be a decision-maker on whether or not the project would go ahead.  Then the Federal Government unilaterally changed the decision-making process,” he said. “This was blatantly unfair and smacks of double dealing – something we as First Nation have become accustomed to with this government.”

“Coastal First Nations will continue to monitor these proceedings and we will do what we can to participate given our limited resources,” Sterritt said. “We are profoundly disappointed with the nature of this process. Taken together these problems undermine the legitimacy and authenticity of the hearing process, our pursuit of the true facts and, ultimately, a just result.”

Sterritt, the executive director of the Coastal First Nations, said pulling out was a difficult decision because the Emergency Response Panel is dealing with important issues.