Town deciding whether to oppose Energy East pipeline

On Nov. 6, two Mount Allison students presented a motion to Sackville town council, asking for the town to formally oppose the Energy East pipeline.

Energy East is a 4,600-kilometre pipeline project proposed by the TransCanada energy corporation. The project would transport over one million barrels of crude bitumen oil every day from Alberta and Saskatchewan to Saint John, N.B. There has been resistance store the pipeline across the country since its original proposal in 2013.

Will Balser, a fourth-year Mt. A student, was one of the students who presented to town council. Along with a group of peers, Balser prepared the presentation in GENV 4101, an environmental activism class taught by Brad Walters.

“We are asking for an official motion and statement on behalf of the town of Sackville from the council in opposition of the construction of the Energy East pipeline,” Balser said. According to Balser, if this motion moves forward, Sackville will be the first municipality in New Brunswick to make such a statement. Balser said the group has been working to present the motion to the MASU as well and would like to eventually present to the Mt. A Board of Regents.

Following their presentation, Balser said he was made aware that Energy East officials began contacting town councillors and have asked for time in council to present on the pipeline. They have been granted time at the Feb. 6 council meeting.

The pipeline debate often appears as the environment vs the economy. Jeff Mann/Argosy

Balser said he thinks that TransCanada has enough airtime, citing the Irving corporation, which owns many major media outlets in New Brunswick and has endorsed the pipeline. “We’re students. We have the Argosy; they have the national media,” he said.

“We’re not looking for a way to make this pipeline sustainable,” Balser said. “We’ve got a ‘leave it in the ground’ policy, because any increase in tar sands production will lead to an increase in the effects of climate change.”

Megan Mitton, a town councillor and Sackville’s Green Party representative, said her priority is to address climate change.

“By building pipelines and investing in new fossil fuel infrastructure, we guarantee that we’re going to continue to use that infrastructure for at least another decade. What the scientific community is telling us is that we can’t afford to do that anymore if we want to have a livable climate.”

Mitton said that although she feels familiar with the stance of energy companies like TransCanada and has researched pipelines and climate change in her own background, she understands other councillors asking for more information.

Town councillor Bill Evans, who drafted the motion that will be voted on in February, agrees. “By all means, become informed. But having spent time researching the current science behind climate change, this is a no-brainer for me,” Evans said. “We should be mitigating the problem, not making it worse.”

Though the Town of Sackville has no decision-making jurisdiction regarding the pipeline project, Mitton says this symbolic action is relevant.

“Sackville has said that sustainability is a priority, and earlier this year adopted the climate change adaptation plan,” said Mitton. “In my opinion, this motion falls in line with that. I think it’s important to be clear about where our priorities are and ask the federal government for this.”

John Higham, mayor of Sackville, said the council asks three questions of any proposed action. “Several town councils in a row have made a commitment to sustainability,” he said. “We ask our staff to look at the environmental impacts, social impacts and economic impacts of an action in order for us to make a fully informed decision, from that sustainability lens,” Higham said.

Some councillors have expressed concern that the motion would be “anti-business.” Mitton said the false dichotomy between the environment and economy is at the root of these sentiments.

“We can’t continue to have these two things seen as mutually exclusive,” Mitton said. “We need to ask how we can combat climate change while making sure that people have jobs and can take care of their families, but they certainly won’t be able to do that without a liveable climate.”

TransCanada representatives will present to council on Feb. 6 and the motion will likely come to a vote on Feb. 13.

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