VANCOUVER — A lawyer for the British Columbia government says the province knows it cannot stop the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, but it can enact environmental laws to mitigate the harm it may cause.
B.C.'s Court of Appeal is considering a reference case filed by the province that asks if it has jurisdiction to regulate the transport of oil through its territory and restrict bitumen shipments from Alberta.
Joseph Arvay, who represents B.C., says his opponents in the case are essentially saying provinces are powerless to enact laws that prevent environmental harm to their lands, waters, people and animals.
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau say only Ottawa — not the provinces — has the authority to decide what goes in trans-boundary pipelines.
But Arvay says a spill of diluted bitumen in B.C. would be disastrous and the province is not required to simply accept such a fate.
Instead, he says it can be proactive in trying to prevent harm.
He says B.C. has “no axe to grind” against pipelines and it understands it cannot prevent the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline, but there are legal precedents for it to enact laws that reduce the risk of inter-provincial projects.
Arvay says the National Energy Board heard differing opinions about the likelihood of a spill, but things don't always go according to plan and B.C. has the right to take precautions.
“Accidents happen,” he told a panel of five judges on Monday.
The energy board recently ruled the project is in the Canadian public interest despite adverse effects to endangered southern resident killer whales and related Indigenous culture.
Arvay says the board has concluded that the benefits of the project are national and regional in scope, but that some local communities would shoulder the burdens of the expansion.
When B.C. filed the reference case last year, Alberta announced it would ban B.C. wines, although it later withdrew the ban to the relief of Okanagan wineries.
Notley's government accused B.C. Premier John Horgan of trying to break the rules of Confederation.
The federal government purchased the Trans Mountain pipeline from Kinder Morgan for $4.5 billion last August.
Construction is on hold after the Federal Court of Appeal ruled the energy board failed to consider marine impacts and the government needed to do more Indigenous consultation.
The board wrapped its review of marine impacts last month and recommended the government approve the project with 16 additional conditions, but Trudeau's cabinet hasn't made a final decision.
© 2019 The Canadian Press