If one of the goals of a public protest is to raise awareness, kayakers on the Columbia River last week were successful.
About 30 members of the Mosquito Fleet, a water-borne group that protests fossil-fuel infrastructure, paddled an hour from Kelley Point Park in Portland to the Port of Vancouver. There they decried the presence of a cargo ship they say was carrying pipes for the expansion of a Canadian pipeline.
All of which reminds us of the need for Washington to stand in opposition to the proposed Trans Mountain Pipeline project. The Canadian government has approved a plan to expand the pipeline and increase the transfer of oil from Alberta to ports near Vancouver, British Columbia.
That is where Washington gets involved. The oil would be loaded onto ships for transport through the Salish Sea, the shared waters between our state and Canada. As Gov. Jay Inslee has said: “This is deeply irresponsible. While they may think this is in Canada’s best interests, this is not in the best interests of the people of Washington or of the world.”
It is estimated that the pipeline would increase tanker traffic from about 60 vessels a year to more than 400. That would impact the habitat of orcas, with studies suggesting that noise and pollution from shipping negatively affect the animals, who are listed as endangered. It also would add to fossil-fuel infrastructure at a time when the burning of such fuels and its role in climate change must be a concern of responsible governments across the globe.
Notably, leaders in British Columbia also are opposed to the plan from their federal government. And earlier this year, Inslee said: “We have a good working relationship with Canada and the province of British Columbia, where we recently reiterated our support for shifting our region to a clean-energy economy. Now is the time to protect our orcas and combat climate change, not invest in long-term fossil fuel infrastructure that would increase our emissions.”
Washington is on the right side of this issue. Adding fossil-fuel infrastructure is an ill-considered act at a time when the impact of climate change is becoming increasingly clear.
The benefits for Canada of expanding the pipeline are easily understood. The nation has vast reserves of oil in northern Alberta but has had difficulty finding cost-effective transport methods. It would be arrogant of American interests to suggest that Canada should limit its economic potential because of our environmental concerns.
But the United States does wield some leverage in the dispute. One factor could be completion of the Keystone XL Pipeline through the middle of the United States. This would bring the crude to a region of the United States that already has extensive infrastructure for refining and transporting oil, rather than creating new problems in the waters off Washington.
Another factor could be ongoing negotiations regarding the Columbia River Treaty, a compact in which Canada provides flood control at the headwaters of the river in exchange for a share of the hydroelectricity generated downstream. A compromise over the Trans Mountain Pipeline could be a mutually beneficial part of those negotiations.
The protesters who rowed from Portland to the Port of Vancouver last week hope to prevent oil from being transported out of northern Canada. That is a laudable but unrealistic goal. Yet they deserve credit for bringing renewed attention to the issue.