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Court shoots down British Columbia rule limiting oil sands bitumen shipments

A British Columbia court said a law aimed at limiting transportation of oil sands bitumen through the province is unconstitutional and an attempt to override the federal government's approval of Trans Mountain Corp.'s planned pipeline expansion.

The provincial government had asked the Court of Appeal for British Columbia, the highest court in the province, to rule on the legality of 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, which is the basis of the plan to almost triple the capacity of the Trans Mountain system. The so-called reference case was sent to the court before Canada's federal government bought the pipeline and its much-delayed expansion from Kinder Morgan Inc.

"The amendment was targeted legislation that in pith and substance relates to the regulation of an interprovincial (or federal) undertaking — the expanded inter-provincial pipeline of Trans Mountain Pipeline ULC and Trans Mountain Pipeline L.P. which is intended to carry 'heavy oil' from Alberta to tidewater," the court said in its ruling. "The amendment thus lies beyond provincial jurisdiction."

The court was unanimous in its decision. British Columbia and some First Nations groups had argued for the ban, while the federal government argued against it. The ruling is Reference re Environmental Management Act (British Columbia), 2019 BCCA 181.