EDMONTON – The pressure is on for the Alberta government to get its long-promised environmental monitoring panel running, says one of the government’s advisers on the project.
“I hope that act gets passed in the next two weeks,” Howard Tennant said Tuesday, a day after the Alberta government introduced legislation to create the arm’s-length monitoring agency.
“That starts the process,” said Tennant, who led the advisory panel on the agency’s creation. “If it doesn’t, we’re in deep trouble.”
Tennant said Alberta’s oilsands customers are watching closely to see how serious the government is about ensuring the province’s resources are developed responsibly.
“(U.S. President Barack) Obama’s not all crazy in this area and the State Department is holding the world (up) to say there has to be some standards there,” said Tennant, referring to American hesitation about approving pipelines that would take Alberta bitumen south.
The federal government is concerned enough to have tendered a contract Tuesday to buy $18 million worth of international advertising to reassure potential trading partners about Canadian environmental policies.
The proposed Alberta Environmental Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting Agency has no leaders, scientific advisers or permanent funding mechanism.
First Nations say they’ve been left out of the process. One group has already announced it won’t participate in the government’s oilsands monitoring and another is dissatisfied.
Environment Minister Diana McQueen knows there’s a lot to do to get the agency on its feet by the government’s announced target of early 2014.
“It is an aggressive timeline, but we’re pretty certain we can meet that.”
McQueen added finding the right people to run the agency will be the biggest challenge.
But candidates for the board of governors and scientific advisory panel are coming forward, said Ernie Hui, the environment deputy minister charged with creating the new agency.
McQueen said the members will have to reflect all regions of the province. The chairperson, she said, will likely be someone with leadership experience.
“What we’re going to look for is who has the best experience in board governance. We can fill board members with some of those other specifics.”
The agency would be likely to receive up to $15 million a year from the province as it took over functions from Alberta Environment, Hui said. That’s in addition to $50 million the oilpatch has agreed to pay for three years.
Hui said there haven’t yet been discussions over who would pay for monitoring outside the oilsands. Tennant said it could come from municipalities and industries such as ranching and irrigation.
McQueen acknowledged the agency won’t have much credibility if local people and aboriginals aren’t supportive.
“We do additional consultation with aboriginals and Metis because it is a special relationship,” she said.
Tennant said finding a leader trusted by both the scientific and business communities, as well as the environment minister, will be crucial for the agency’s long-term success.
Given the tight timelines to get the agency running, Hui suggested it initially could be led by someone from Alberta Environment.
McQueen said Albertans — and the rest of the world — can be confident in the new agency.
“The science and the data has to be arms-length, so when we receive it as a government that Albertans, Canadians and anyone can receive it at the same time,” she said. “A science advisory panel that can do peer review is very important as well.
“We’re very proud of where we’ve gotten to date and now the hard work begins.”
Tennant concedes the whole project is fraught with risk.
“Wrong chairman, wrong minister and things could take a nosedive. But we’ve got an opportunity to do something that hasn’t been done before.”