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BC Asks Courts for Authority to Block Pipeline Expansion

Protection for coasts comes first, government argues.

Andrew MacLeod 27 Apr

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

The B.C. government’s questions to the courts about Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline aim to protect the province’s coast, Premier John Horgan said Thursday.

“We believe the province of British Columbia has every right to protect its citizens, to protect its environment and protect its economy,” Horgan said.

“By issuing this reference today, we’re confirming that we believe we have the jurisdiction to ensure that if there was a catastrophic diluted bitumen spill we have the ability to take steps to protect our economy and environment.”

In the latest stage of the provincial government’s battle against the proposed Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, it has asked the BC Court of Appeal to review four pages of proposed legislation that would amend the Environmental Management Act and address questions about the amendments’s constitutionality.

The questions ask whether the draft legislation is within the province’s jurisdiction and whether it can apply restrictions to a substance that arrives from another province via pipeline or rail.

They also ask whether there’s any federal law that would override the province’s legislation.

“British Columbia is taking steps within the law to protect the health of its people, its environment, its economy and its communities,” said Attorney General David Eby. “That’s the heart of our concern.”

The goal is to gain certainty about the regulation of substances, particularly diluted bitumen, coming into the province, he said.

“We believe British Columbia has legal authority to regulate the movement of such substances through the province by permit. Others disagree. It’s a question that deserves an answer and certainty.”

Environment Minister George Heyman said there are gaps in the knowledge about how bitumen spilled in water behaves in different weather and geographic conditions and that those gaps need to be filled.

“We know British Columbians have a deep personal connection with our coast, a deep connection with our fish, with our wildlife,” he said. “It’s our responsibility to defend the interests of British Columbians. That’s what we propose to do.”

BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson criticized the reference question, saying it acknowledges the province lacks the jurisdiction to stop the shipment of oil in tankers.

“The NDP have made a fool of British Columbians for the past year by pretending they can stop shipments through tankers through British Columbia waters,” he said. “This has been a giant sham and it’s time for the NDP to be held to account for it.”

There’s already significant shipping of oil in tankers on the coast and the government seems to be trying to stop the pipeline by tying it up in a potentially lengthy court process, Wilkinson said.

“The NDP’s game plan is to drag this out for about two years, to try and drive off investment from British Columbia, to create uncertainty, and that’s not good for British Columbia.”

Andrew Weaver, BC Green Party leader, said that while what happens on the ocean is clearly a federal responsibility, spilled oil washing up on the coast is well within provincial jurisdiction.

“It’s good legislation which would give the province the right to regulate hazardous substances, and they have some punitive measures attached if rules were broken, so we’re very pleased,” he said.

The $7.4-billion Trans Mountain project would expand the existing pipeline’s capacity from 300,000 barrels per day to 890,000, according to Kinder Morgan. The pipeline carries oil and petroleum products from Alberta to the coast, and supporters argue expanding it is necessary to get Canadian oil to international markets.

Earlier in April the company announced it is suspending all non-essential activity and spending on the pipeline, in part due to “the continued actions in opposition to the project by the Province of British Columbia.” The company said it would consult with stakeholders before May 31 in hopes of protecting shareholders and gaining clarity on its ability to construct the pipeline through B.C.

The NDP ran in last year’s election saying it would use “every tool in the toolbox” to stop the pipeline. It formed government with the support of three Green MLAs who also opposed the project.

Horgan said that the government will decide what to do next after the Court of Appeal decision.

“I don’t want to say this is the beginning or the end. This is another step.”  [Tyee]

Read more: Energy, Politics, Environment

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