The Evidence Adds Up: Site C Is Still a Train Wreck

April 4, 2018

In his passionate defence of the NDP government’s decision to proceed with the construction of the Site C dam, Brian Cochrane, business manager of the International Union of Operating Engineers, has made one good point.

He argues that the Tyee has published endless articles against the controversial dam and not much in favour of the project.

He’s right about that, and the Tyee has not served its readers well by omitting such points of view.

But then Cochrane launches into a tirade against the Leap Manifesto. He suggests that anyone who has criticized Site C, such as this author, must be an advocate of this plan to reduce GHG emissions. I am not.

He then declares that dams are “clean and green.”

In defending the megaproject, Cochrane seems to be what Wendell Berry would call a “sentimental capitalist.”

Sentimental capitalism posits that everything small, natural, local and beautiful must be sacrificed in the interest of megaprojects which, sometime in the future, will deliver unprecedented security and prosperity. As a bonus, the project will even reduce GHG emissions, claims Cochrane.

Now I can understand why construction unions love mega-projects because they mostly go over budget and over schedule and rarely deliver their promised benefits.

Even Oxford business professors now describe megaprojects as dubious gravy trains for a select few.

Once upon a time unions just didn’t think about jobs for their members but considered the broader public interest, the health of our democracy and the integrity of Crown agencies designed to serve the public.

My job as a journalist is to consider all these things and to monitor power and the centres of power, whether they be right or left leaning, Liberal, New Democrat or Green.

The best scientific evidence suggests that dams are fiscal train wrecks, and that prudent governments should pursue small and more agile alternatives.

The best environmental evidence suggests that small and localized energy projects serve communities better than giant, centralized ones.

The best accounting evidence suggests that BC Hydro now carries a $20-billion debt and is in serious trouble — and that’s not counting Site C’s ever rising bill: now $12-billion.

The best energy evidence suggests that there is no such thing as clean or green energy and that all forms of energy come with ecological and moral costs.

The best economic evidence shows that dams in Newfoundland and Manitoba have gone crazily overbudget and created a fiscal calamity for their citizens.

The best legal evidence suggests that the B.C. government has not honoured Treaty 8 in any shape or form.

The best political evidence suggests that the government is not building Site C to power 450,000 homes but instead wants to provide “clean” energy for oil and gas companies so they frack shale rock and pretend that the export of liquefied natural gas is somehow “clean.”

Until I find evidence to the contrary, I shall continue to report on Site C as a slow-moving fiscal and moral train wreck for the province and the country.  [Tyee]


Teaser photo credit: ‘Well, I guess Nikiforuk was right.’ Photo via simpleinsomnia on Flickr.

Andrew Nikiforuk

Andrew Nikiforuk has been writing about the oil and gas industry for nearly 20 years and cares deeply about accuracy, government accountability, and cumulative impacts. He has won seven National Magazine Awards for his journalism since 1989 and top honours for investigative writing from the Association of Canadian Journalists.

Andrew has also published several books. The dramatic, Alberta-based Saboteurs: Wiebo Ludwig’s War Against Big Oil, won the Governor General's Award for Non-Fiction in 2002. Pandemonium, which examines the impact of global trade on disease exchanges, received widespread national acclaim. The Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of the Continent, which considers the world’s largest energy project, was a national bestseller and won the 2009 Rachel Carson Environment Book Award and was listed as a finalist for the Grantham Prize for Excellence In Reporting on the Environment. Andrew's latest book, Empire of the Beetle, a startling look at pine beetles and the world’s most powerful landscape changer, was nominated for the Governor General’s award for Non-Fiction in 2011.

Tags: Hydropower, megaprojects