In an act of long overdue wisdom, B.C.’s environment minister, George Heyman, proposed new protections for B.C.’s inland and coast — directly impacting the jolly oil giant, Kinder Morgan.

“The provincial government is proposing a second phase of regulations to improve preparedness, response, and recovery from potential spills,” the beginning of the province’s news release read.

Last year, following a 29-month review, the National Energy Board (NEB) approved the Texas-based oil company’s Trans Mountain Expansion Project, with 157 conditions.

Since, a handful of groups including the Sierra Club, Ecojustice, the Globe and Mail, and activists, called the NEB’s credibility as a national regulator into question. The Sierra Club even published a thorough report on deficiencies in the NEB’s approval process. B.C.’s now more rigorous regulations stand out as a focused attempt to mitigate potential ecosystem damage. In principle, Heyman announced the NDP’s following through on campaign promises, and their grievance with the NEB’s review.

Alberta premier, Rachel Notley, called out the B.C. government on Twitter, saying B.C.’s decision must be seen as “Political game-playing and political theatre.”

She went on to accuse B.C. of exercising power it doesn’t have, saying the government’s act “could have serious consequences for the jobs and the livelihoods of millions of Canadians who count on their governments to act within their scope of their authority.”

This 1,150-kilometre cross-province pipeline is governed federally. Since Ottawa’s approval shortly after the Trudeau government gained office, the decision has been beyond B.C.’s jurisdiction. Kinder Morgan released a statement yesterday acknowledging the province’s proposal, saying it’ll actively participate in the engagement and feedback process, but noted that federal approval was already given. Even still, B.C. must employ regulations that will protect the environment, as well as the global climate.

Last Monday, the NEB began hearings to listen to concerns about the proposed route for the expansion project that will run through Burnaby, Coquitlam, and north Surrey. Burnaby mayor Derek Corrigan recently said in a statement: “Because of the damage and disruption it would cause to the city and Metro Vancouver’s environment, economy and neighbourhoods — in perpetuity — the City of Burnaby is determined to ensure that this route is never approved.” The cities of Burnaby and Coquitlam, some Indigenous groups, and landowners are others among the stakeholders speaking against the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

Burnaby and Kinder Morgan have been in an ongoing battle for permits relating to tree-cutting and zoning bylaws since October. In December, the NEB ruled that Kinder Morgan doesn’t have to comply with Burnaby bylaws.

In light of these developments, pipeline approval or disapproval isn’t the main issue — government listening to citizens’ concerns is. So much of the initial review process was marred by hastiness, ignoring key issues, and limiting public involvement. This is why Heyman’s proposals are significant; they attempt to set a standard that has citizens’ best interests in mind.

It’s very unlikely that Ottawa will reconsider their approval. As reported by the Globe and Mail, the vice-minister of financial and economic affairs said China won’t move forward with a proposed “historic” free-trade deal with Canada without “concession on investment restrictions and a commitment to build an energy pipeline to the coast.”

Killing the pipeline expansion would put a damper on Canadian-Chinese trade. That means the expansion will remain approved. At least Horgan’s government might negotiate a better deal.

B.C. and the rest of the stakeholders should continue to focus on working with the pipeline giant to establish policies that work and protect the local ecosystems.

Image: Caleb Campbell/The Cascade