Kent backs Keystone pipeline despite protests

As Washington protests continue, Canada's environment minister Peter Kent says he supports the Keystone pipeline project.

Native protesters lobbying Canada's Ambassador in Washington to stop backing project

Environment Minister Peter Kent, shown here at a news conference to announce the government's plans for integrated oil sands monitoring in July, said Thursday that he supports TransCanada's Keystone pipeline project. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Environment minister Peter Kent has voiced his support for TransCanada's proposed Keystone XL pipeline, as protests against the project continue in Washington.

Speaking at an event Thursday in Ottawa, Environment Minister Peter Kent acknowledged the concerns of the protesters but said he remains supportive of the project, which he says underwent "a very thorough environmental assessment which found that there was little likelihood of serious negative environmental impact."

Kent praised TransCanada's track record, and said there was a lot of "misinformation" and "non-science" behind some of the protesters' accusations.

"The southern American refineries to which the heavy oil from Alberta would eventually go on the Keystone pipeline would replace very similar heavy oil from Venezuela, which will shortly no longer be going to Texas because it's going to China," Kent said. "I think there's been quite a bit of exaggeration... it's a matter of better informing those who might not understand exactly what the project would entail."

Kent said he had talked to his American counterpart, Lisa Jackson, at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about the pipeline, but acknowledged that defending the project was really "beyond my file."

Washington protests continue

On Wednesday, Canadian aboriginals called upon Gary Doer, Canada's ambassador to the United States, to stop promoting the pipeline specifically, and Alberta's oilsands generally, as part of his duties in the American capital.

A group of about two dozen native activists, accompanied by Council of Canadians head Maude Barlow, marched upon the Canadian embassy on Pennsylvania Avenue on Wednesday to present a letter to Doer, who was in Winnipeg at the time.

In his absence, they presented the letter to embassy official Chris Plunkett, who emerged from the building to greet them.

One of the activists, Clayton Thomas-Muller of the Indigenous Environmental Network, urged Plunkett to appeal to Doer as a Manitoban and the former premier of the province.

"Manitoba is a province that prides itself on renewable energy resources ... and so for him to be touting tarsands I know must be painful," Thomas-Mueller, a Manitoban Cree, told Plunkett.

"So please compel him to answer the call, especially from First Nations in Canada, who are bearing the human and ecological health crises that the tarsands are creating in our homelands."

Plunkett assured the protesters that Doer would be given their letter as soon as he returned to the U.S. capital.

In her remarks to the tiny crowd of media outside the embassy, Barlow chastised Doer.

"It is not the role of Ambassador Gary Doer to be acting as chief salesman for the energy industry in Canada; this is not his job," she said.

Thomas-Mueller agreed.

"He needs to stop meddling in international policy affairs in foreign countries and pushing our dirty Canadian oilsands to U.S. markets," he said.

"It's absolutely imperative that the public be aware of the critical human rights situation playing out in northern Alberta and First Nations communities and the concerns of native Americans and landowners and communities all along the right of way of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline."

Indigenous people from across North America are joining the ongoing White House protest against the Keystone XL pipeline on Friday.

Several First Nations leaders from Canada, including Bill Erasmus and George Poitras, former chief of the Mikisew Cree in northern Alberta, will take part in the events.

Final Keystone approval still to come

More than 200 people have been arrested in the civil disobedience campaign outside the White House since Aug. 20, including actors Margot Kidder and Daryl Hannah.

The activists are hoping to convince U.S. President Barack Obama to block the controversial pipeline that would carry oilsands crude from Alberta through six U.S. states to refineries in Texas.

The pipeline cleared a hurdle last week when the U.S. State Department released its final environmental impact report that said the risks from Keystone XL were minimal.

The Obama administration says it will make a final decision on whether to give the green light to the $7 billion project by the end of the year, after it's assessed whether the pipeline is in the U.S. national interest.

Keystone XL has become a rallying cry for the American environmental movement in the wake of failed federal climate-change legislation last year.

Proponents of the pipeline, however, say it will create thousands of jobs and help end U.S. reliance on Middle Eastern oil.