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Alberta Premier Rachel Notley is temporarily ending her province's ban on B.C. wine after Premier John Horgan announced a new court action to defend rules that could stop Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project.
"We'll be buying wine again," Notley told reporters at a late afternoon news conference.
Notley's comments came after Horgan released a statement that said his government would pursue consultations on four different measures to deal with the threat of spills of bitumen, the tar-like heavy oil that would be shipped from Alberta to the B.C. coast on the pipeline expansion project. He also said his government would take the matter to court before acting, but appeared to drop a previous threat to restrict any increase in bitumen shipments in the absence of more scientific research.
His announcement was interpreted by Notley as a concession.
"I think it is fair to say that in a small way today B.C. blinked," Notley said. "B.C. is stepping back from the brink and abiding by the law, and this is a good thing."
If built, Kinder Morgan's project would triple the capacity of its existing Trans Mountain pipeline, shipping up to 890,000 barrels of oil per day. The project would also multiply the number of oil tankers on the coast by a factor of seven.
“We believe it is our right to take appropriate measures to protect our environment, economy and our coast from the drastic consequence of a diluted bitumen spill,” Horgan said in the statement. “And we are prepared to confirm that right in the courts.”
The four different measures would address spill response times, response plans in geographic regions, compensation for damage, and new regulations related to marine spills.
The statement said that it would take several weeks before the province brings the case forward in the courts.
Horgan's latest comments come a week after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused the B.C. premier in an interview with National Observer of trying to "scuttle" Canada's national climate change plan by blocking the Texas company's pipeline project. Trudeau said in the interview that the pipeline was key to getting Alberta to contribute to meeting Canada's climate change goals.
The prime minister also said, in the same interview, that he was prepared to impose a national price on carbon on any province that doesn't introduce its own measures to make polluters pay.
However, B.C. demands are backed up by American and Canadian scientists who have warned that there are significant gaps and uncertainties in the science related to how to clean up a bitumen spill in water. Environment and Climate Change Canada also made this argument in its final submission in January 2016 to the National Energy Board. The NEB, a Calgary-based federal regulator, reviewed the project and recommended its approval with 157 conditions. Despite concerns raised by First Nations and the scientists, Trudeau accepted the NEB's recommendations and approved the project in November 2016.
Horgan had previously described Notley's ban on imports of B.C. wines as disproportionate and unlawful.
“The actions by the Alberta government threaten an entire industry and the livelihoods of people who depend on it,” said Horgan. “We have taken steps to protect our wine industry from the unwarranted trade action by the Government of Alberta.
“It’s not about politics. It’s not about trade. It’s about British Columbians’ right to have their voices heard on this critical issue,” said Horgan. “And it’s about B.C.’s right to defend itself against actions that may threaten our people, our province and our future.”
The Trudeau government introduced a $1.5 billion plan to be spent over five years to protect Canada's oceans as part of its response to concerns about potential spills.
It hasn't yet provided full details of how this money will be spent.
Editor's note: This article was updated at 7:10 p.m. ET on Feb. 22, 2018 with additional information about a change in B.C.'s previously announced measures. It was updated again at 7:53 p.m. ET with comments from Premier Rachel Notley.