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Supreme Court rules against B.C. bill that could impede Trans Mountain expansion

The Supreme Court of Canada building, located in downtown Ottawa. Jan. 3, 2020. Jolson Lim/iPolitics

The Supreme Court of Canada has upheld a lower court dismissal’s of the B.C. government’s plan to restrict heavy oil shipments flowing through its borders.

It announced the decision in a statement on Thursday afternoon, shortly after holding a hearing on the case. No reasons were provided, as the court said only that the case was dismissed.

Usually, rulings from the court come weeks, or even months, after a hearing.

READ MORE: Court rules B.C. can’t restrict oil shipments

The ruling upends plans to set up a permitting system that threatened to stall the federally owned Trans Mountain expansion project.

The B.C. Court of Appeal unanimously ruled against the plan in decision released in May. In that ruling, the court acknowledged the overlapping powers for environmental protection shared by the provinces and federal government, but stated that the proposed permit requirements for heavy oil shipments represented an unconstitutional attempt to regulate “federal undertakings.”

Regulation of the pipeline, which runs from Alberta’s oilsands to the B.C. coast, falls entirely in federal jurisdiction because it crosses provincial boundaries, the court said.

“Unless the pipeline is contained entirely within a province, federal jurisdiction is the only way in which it may be regulated,” the ruling reads.

B.C.’s NDP government, which opposes the Trans Mountain project, had proposed amendments to the province’s Environmental Management Act that would require a “hazardous substance permit” for the expansion of the pipeline.

The application for the permit would require detailing the health and environmental risks of a spill, measures taken to minimize the impacts of a spill and financial means to respond, including carrying insurance.

The owner of the pipeline would also be required to create a fund for local governments and First Nations to help respond to any potential spills and to provide compensation.

B.C. justified the legality of the proposed amendments by arguing that the provinces are empowered under the Constitution to legislate on property and civil rights within their jurisdictions and issues that are a “merely local or private nature.”

However, the B.C. Court of Appeal ruled that the pipeline expansion project affected the entire country and would need to be regulated in such a manner, specifically by the federal NEB.

“The TMX (Trans Mountain expansion) project is not only a ‘British Columbia project.’ The project affects the country as a whole, and falls to be regulated taking into account the interests of the country as a whole,” reads the ruling.

“At the end of the day, the NEB is the body entrusted with regulating the flow of energy resources across Canada to export markets.”

READ MORE: NEB says Trans Mountain is in public interest, despite threat to resident orcas

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