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Canada's top court quashes British Columbia bitumen-transport law

The Supreme Court of Canada dismissed an appeal of a law that would have allowed British Columbia to limit shipments of oil sands-derived bitumen within its boundaries. The law would have effectively killed Trans Mountain Corp.'s under-construction pipeline expansion.

In a unanimous decision on Jan. 16, the court upheld a ruling by a British Columbia court that found the province exceeded its constitutional authority in passing the law that would give it control over products that flow through federally regulated pipelines. Canada's top court announced its dismissal of the appeal through a press release and said reasons for the dismissal would be posted later. The Attorney General of British Columbia and the Attorney General of Canada were the participants in the case.

British Columbia passed the law as part of a spat with neighboring Alberta over the federal government's approval of the Trans Mountain expansion project, which would see the capacity of the line linking Alberta's oil sands region with a terminal in British Columbia's populous Lower Mainland region lifted to 890,000 barrels per day from the existing 300,000 bbl/d. British Columbia has been a staunch opponent of the line, which Alberta sees as vital to its economic interests. Alberta had passed a law that would have allowed it to limit petroleum shipments to certain jurisdictions, notably British Columbia, severely limiting the availability of motor fuel in the province.

British Columbia Premier John Horgan's government proposed the law as an amendment to its environment act. The amendment would have allowed it to limit shipments of tar-like bitumen until its chemical properties and its behavior in spills could be better understood. The law would have effectively stopped increased shipments of bitumen.

Kinder Morgan Inc. sold Trans Mountain to Canada's federal government after years of provincial, municipal and federal squabbles made the viability of its construction uncertain.

The case is Attorney General of British Columbia v. Attorney General of Canada [B.C.] [Civil] [As of Right] [38682], 2020 SCC 1.