May 27, 2024

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Alberta Minister gets mandate letter from Premier Danielle Smith

“Nearly every single objective in my mandate letter does include aspects of environmental standards, regulations, or collaboratively working with other ministries, industry partners, municipalities, or Indigenous communities, to make sure that we are meeting those standards”

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As Premier Danielle Smith’s newly re-elected UCP government aims to promote Alberta as the most responsible energy producer and exporter on Earth, critics say ministerial marching orders are too focused on streamlining industrial approvals over addressing serious environmental concerns.

Smith released a mandate letter Monday afternoon to Environment and Protected Areas Minister Rebecca Schulz addressing a laundry list of priorities, from opening up water licensing, to regulating emerging small-scale nuclear energy, to streamlining reclamation requirements for energy projects.

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One of Schulz’ first priorities will be working with Ottawa and First Nations to come up with a plan to clean up toxic oilsands tailings ponds, but critics say her mandate letter doesn’t prioritize many of the environmental issues her ministry should be expected to put at the forefront.

Nigel Bankes, professor emeritus of law at the University of Calgary, told Postmedia Tuesday he saw little mention of specific strategies for protecting water, endangered species like caribou, or the Eastern Slopes of the Rocky Mountains from coal mining.

“I don’t see anything being done to address the problems that we’ve got,” he said, noting a lack of clear direction on important long-term land use plans, and ways to better regulate resource industries.

Martin Olszynski, an associate professor at the University of Calgary specializing in environmental law, told Postmedia Tuesday the priorities send a message.

“The environment absolutely takes a back seat, in this context, to pretty much everything else,” said Olszynski.

“When I read streamlining, that for me is code for cutting corners,” he said, adding that there is no problem with making the regulatory system more efficient, but it needs to be an effective system for remediating and reclaiming oil and gas sites. He said the mandate letter appears geared towards protecting industry players.

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“This is something that is clearly problematic, is a massive risk, not just for Alberta and the taxpayer, but downstream First Nations who are going to have to deal with the legacy of oilsands production for generations,” he said.

When asked about her priorities, Schulz told Postmedia her ministry has very high standards for the environment and her mandate letter includes action on emissions reductions.

“Nearly every single objective in my mandate letter does include aspects of environmental standards, regulations, or collaboratively working with other ministries, industry partners, municipalities, or Indigenous communities, to make sure that we are meeting those standards,” she said Tuesday.

“(In) the work of the Ministry of Environment, land use planning is all about air, water, biodiversity, ensuring that we are adhering to our environmental standards, but … often times decisions just get held up in Environment,” she said.

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“It’s not about just development, it’s about making sure that we are timely in our responses.”

Schulz and Energy and Minerals Minister Brian Jean have been asked to implement Alberta’s Emissions Reduction and Energy Development Plan, which sets a goal of creating a carbon-neutral economy by 2050, in line with the federal government.

In Schulz’ letter, she is also directed “to increase the availability of water and water licences to Alberta municipalities, businesses and agricultural producers while maintaining the highest standards of water conservation and treatment.”


Jodi Calahoo Stonehouse, the Alberta NDP critic for environment, parks and climate resilience, told Postmedia the mandate letter missed the mark, omitting any strategy or accountability measures on climate change, protection of the Eastern Slopes from coal mining, water protection, or other serious environmental concerns.

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“There’s no protection of any ecosystem or biodiversity mentioned in the letter,” she said, saying it sets the province back to the policy landscape of the early 1980s when environmental issues hadn’t come onto its radar and little was done to hold industry to account.

“It’s status quo, we have no movement on the mark where we need to go, and we are falling behind competitively with the rest of the world, which is going to cause long-term harm to Albertans,” she said.

Calahoo Stonehouse doesn’t feel any optimism that Schulz’ letter alludes to cleaning up tailings ponds.

“It’s too little too late,” said Calahoo Stonehouse.

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