Despite Mounting Global Pressure, Liberty Refuses to Comment on Trans Mountain Decision
Around the globe, Liberty Mutual is facing calls to rule out insurance coverage for the Trans Mountain tar sands oil pipeline expansion (TMX) in Canada. In advance of Trans Mountain’s insurance policy expiring on August 31, 2022, Indigenous Peoples, communities, and climate activists came together to demand that #LibertyDropTMX and exit the tar sands sector entirely.
But given that Liberty Mutual has so far remained silent on its decision regarding Trans Mountain, we think it is likely that the insurance giant has renewed coverage.
Insurance is a prerequisite for the existing Trans Mountain line’s continued operation and for the operation of the expansion project, and Liberty is one of the largest insurers listed in the most recent public certificate of insurance that has yet to publicly announce it has cut ties – or even sit down and meet with First Nations to discuss the project. That’s why Liberty has been the focus of campaign efforts this past summer.
Pressure from Indigenous groups and climate activists to drop Trans Mountain and other tar sands expansion projects is working, as evidenced by the dwindling number of insurance companies with the expertise and risk appetite for insuring the oil sector in Canada. As of September 2022, eighteen insurers have committed to not insure the Trans Mountain expansion project or cut ties, most recently Aspen and Arch in May and June 2022. Trans Mountain’s former lead insurer Zurich cut ties in 2020, and another big supporter, Chubb, backed out last September.
Globally, more than fifteen companies have adopted policies restricting support for the tar sands sector, including many of Liberty’s peers in the US: AIG, Chubb, The Hartford, and Travelers. But Liberty Mutual remains missing in action, falling even farther behind global and US insurers when it comes to climate action.
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Liberty in the Spotlight
More than 250,000 people have signed onto a petition urging Liberty to publicly rule out support for Trans Mountain. In August, activists delivered this tall stack of signatures to Liberty Mutual offices in Vancouver, Toronto, Seattle, and Denver. At the offices, activists engaged with employees so that they better understand Liberty’s climate and human rights policies, and meanwhile, thousands of supporters have bombarded Liberty executives with messages, sending emails, making phone calls, requesting zoom meetings, and commenting on LinkedIn and other social media platforms.
During the week of August 24, more than 2,000 people posted on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook under the #LibertyDropTMX banner, sharing photos, art, and personal stories. Action takers included youth who live along the pipeline route, allies in India, Sierra Leone, and the South Pacific, Indigenous artists and land defenders, lawyers who have been fighting the pipeline for years, celebrities like Daryl Hannah, Dan Mangan, Bill McKibben and thousands more.
Many of these photos were then projected onto Liberty’s headquarters, bringing the messages from around the world directly to Liberty’s leadership team in its home city of Boston.
The existing Trans Mountain pipeline, which runs across western Canada from Alberta to Vancouver, is already a major climate, environmental, and public health hazard. The Trans Mountain expansion project, which seeks to twin the existing line and more than double its capacity, would multiply these risks tremendously.
In terms of climate change, the tar sands are one of the dirtiest, highest carbon sources of oil on the planet. As the International Energy Agency underscored in its May 2021 net-zero pathway, there can be “no investment in new fossil fuel supply projects” if we are to achieve net zero emissions globally by 2050. The UN Secretary General recently referred to any investment in new fossil fuels infrastructure as “moral and economic madness,” and yet, Trans Mountain aims to enable increased extraction of tar sands oil.
In Alberta, at sites of tar sands oil extraction, the process contaminates fresh water, necessitates the clearing of vast forests, and harms the health of local Indigenous peoples due to the quantity of toxic chemicals released. Along the pipeline’s proposed route, oil spills threaten to pollute Indigenous drinking water sources and sacred waterways, and the oil would then be loaded into tankers that increase traffic in the Salish Sea, risking endangered orcas, salmon, and other sensitive marine populations.
The Trans Mountain pipeline expansion also poses a grave threat to Indigenous rights and has failed to obtain the Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) of all of the First Nations impacted by the proposed route. As recent high-profile conflicts over projects such as the Coastal Gas Link pipeline and Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline have demonstrated, proceeding with pipeline construction without FPIC represents a serious material risk that must be recognized and addressed.
In addition, the pipeline project is currently years behind schedule, and, ironically, climate change impacts, including floods and wildfires, are causing even more construction delays. Aging infrastructure, ballooning costs, safety concerns, and the danger of becoming a stranded asset all present significant financial and reputational costs for every company financing, insuring, or investing in the project. You can read more about these risks in our open letter to Liberty Mutual from July 2022.
In the face of Liberty Mutual’s continued silence and inaction, we are keeping the pressure on, because we know that our collective power – when we organize – can move these insurance giants. Together, we have pushed 18 insurers out of this toxic project, making it more difficult and expensive for Trans Mountain to obtain the insurance coverage it legally needs to operate.
If we can move Liberty and the other few big insurers still backing the tar sands to stop enabling fossil fuel expansion, it will accelerate the transition to a just, clean energy economy that we urgently need. Liberty is feeling the heat already; now it’s time to turn it up.