Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline expansion has a new Indigenous-led oversight committee, backed by the federal government, to monitor the controversial project's construction which is slated to begin in September.
The Indigenous Advisory and Monitoring Committee includes 13 Indigenous members, representing bands from Alberta to the B.C. coast, and six federal representatives including the National Energy Board, Indigenous leaders announced today.
"We wanted to have this committee in place so that we would not be left outside the gate looking in," said committee member and Chief Ernie Crey of the Cheam First Nation in B.C.'s Fraser Valley.
"It will begin its work and it needs to start straight away."
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The idea came from Crey and Chief Aaron Sam of the Lower Nicola Indian Band, who pitched the oversight body in a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the premiers of B.C. and Alberta last year.
"We're going to be right there with the regulator ... to make sure that our interests as they construct the pipeline from source to tidewater will be protected," said Crey.
The Trans Mountain expansion, which was approved by the Trudeau government last November, would nearly triple the existing capacity on Kinder Morgan's 1,150-kilometre pipeline that runs from the Edmonton area to Burnaby, B.C., to 890,000 barrels a day and increase tanker traffic on the B.C. coast.
Ottawa has pledged $64.7-million over five years to support the work of the committee, which starts meeting in August.
Uncertain fate of pipeline
The election of an NDP government in B.C. — which opposes the project — and several court challenges have put the fate of the $7.4-billion pipeline in question, though the company says construction will begin in September.
Participation in the oversight group is explicitly not a stamp of approval, said Crey.
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While some groups still pledge to stop the pipeline, Crey said the committee was formed to get Indigenous voices at the table.
"We had to plan what it is that we want to do, with a clear idea in mind that it's likely to be constructed."
In a statement, Trans Mountain said it "welcomes the establishment [of the committee] to represent Indigenous perspectives on safety and the environment."
"Trans Mountain ... s committed to building and sustaining respectful relationships with Indigenous communities and partners; including shared prosperity through the development and lifecycle of the project."
In a release, the National Energy Board said it looks forward to working with Indigenous communities "to advance our shared goals of environmental protection and safety."
With files from CBC News