VANCOUVER – A lawyer representing British Columbia says proposed changes to an environmental law won’t allow the province to refuse to provide a permit to a pipeline operator for no reason.
B.C.’s Court of Appeal is hearing a reference case that asks whether the province can create a permitting system for transporters of hazardous substances through its territory.
The governments of Canada, Alberta and Saskatchewan say Ottawa — not provinces — has jurisdiction over inter-provincial projects such as the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
Canada says in court documents that the proposed amendments to B.C.’s Environmental Management Act must be struck down because they give the province a “veto” over such projects.
Joseph Arvay, a lawyer for B.C., says the amendments only allow the province to refuse to issue a permit or revoke one in cases where the operator fails to follow conditions imposed upon it.
He adds that if the operator finds the conditions too onerous, it can appeal to the independent Environmental Appeal Board, or in the case of Trans Mountain, the National Energy Board.
The energy board has set up a process where Trans Mountain Corp. can argue that a condition is too burdensome and violates the special status of inter-provincial projects, he says.
“The NEB effectively gets the last word … but it’s going to be condition by condition, law by law,” Arvay told a panel of five judges on Tuesday.
Arvay says the law would be unconstitutional if it declared an absolute prohibition on pipelines in B.C., but the amendments only impose conditions on trans-boundary projects.
In order to obtain a permit, operators would have to provide disaster response plans and agree to compensate the province, municipalities and First Nations for any damages, among other conditions.
When Premier John Horgan announced the proposed changes last year, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley accused him of breaking the rules of Confederation and declared a short-lived ban on B.C. wines.
The Trans Mountain pipeline expansion would triple the capacity of the existing line from near Edmonton to Burnaby, B.C., and increase tanker traffic in Burrard Inlet seven-fold.