Alberta minister says critics may have more say in energy project reviews

Alberta minister says critics may have more say in energy project reviews by The Canadian Press, October 4, 2013, Calgary Herald
Alberta’s energy minister is suggesting a court ruling that showed the province stopped critics of a proposed oilsands project from making their case won’t happen again. Ken Hughes says it would be unfortunate if the ruling this week by Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Richard Marceau shakes public confidence in the province’s regulatory system. Hughes says the government is in the middle of changing how reviews of energy projects will work. He says under the new system the Alberta Energy Regulator will be responsible for project reviews. Hughes says under that system there will be a better process for allowing people with different views to make their case about project proposals. Marceau quashed a government decision to prevent the Oil Sands Environmental Coalition from speaking to a pending hearing of a proposed oilsands mine. [Emphasis added]

Above quickly replaced with:

Still Alberta’s prerogative to say who speaks at oilsands reviews: Alison Redford by The Canadian Press with files from Lauren Krugel in Calgary and CFVR in Fort McMurray, October 4, 2013, Calgary Herald
Alberta’s premier says it’s still her government’s prerogative to make sure the review process for oilsands projects doesn’t get bogged down by interveners who aren’t directly impacted by what’s being proposed. Alison Redford was responding to a ruling earlier this week by Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Richard Marceau. Marceau found that the Environment Department bureaucrats contravened their own laws by enacting a shadow policy to stop the Oil Sands Environmental Coalition from speaking to reviews of proposed oilsands operations. Marceau ruled that, in June 2012, the department used those grounds to reject the coalition’s application for standing in a review of Southern Pacific Resource Corp. oilsands in situ drilling operation south of Fort MacKay.

Redford noted the ruling dealt with one specific intervener. “It was the position of the government of Alberta that they weren’t directly impacted by the project and it was certainly within our prerogative as a government to make that determination and it continues to be in our prerogative as a government,” the premier said in Calgary Friday. Redford noted that legislation has changed since 2012.

Energy Minister Ken Hughes suggested such a situation wouldn’t happen again under the changes. “Under the new process, at the Alberta Energy Regulator, there will be a clear opportunity for people to say, ‘Hey, I’d like to make my case at the front-end of the process,” Hughes said speaking in Fort McMurray on Thursday night. “We are in the process of changing all of that … for people with different perspectives to bring their case forward.”

Under the new process, Hughes’ staff said presenters will still have to make a case to be heard on an application, but they will only have to satisfy the regulator that their input is meaningful and valuable and will assist the regulator in reaching its decision. Marceau, in his ruling, pointed to a 2009 briefing note from the department’s northern region director to the top bureaucrat in the department at the time. The note said that while the coalition had been given standing in previous oilsands hearings, that should stop. It said the coalition was no longer assisting the government on environmental initiatives and that one member of the coalition in particular, the Pembina Institute think-tank, was publishing “negative media on the oilsands.”

The director, who is not named in Marceau’s judgment, suggested the coalition be rejected on the grounds it is not directly affected by the oilsands operations. Marceau found that the director indeed used those grounds to reject the coalition’s application for the Southern Pacific Resource Corp. project in 2012. Two members of the coalition, Pembina and the Fort McMurray Environmental Association, appealed, leading to Marceau’s decision this week that quashed the government’s rejection of the coalition. In his ruling, Marceau noted that nowhere in Alberta’s Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act does it say the government can exclude from reviews “those persons or groups who voice negative statements about proposed oilsands development.”

Both the federal and provincial NDP have used Marceau’s ruling to attack the Alberta government. Federal NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair said the ruling reinforces widespread cynicism that the province’s approval process for projects is rigged in favour of oil companies. 

Redford said the government still hasn’t decided if it will appeal. “We may appeal the decision and until we get legal advice with respect to that I won’t comment any further,” she said.

[Refer also to:

Court of Queen’s Bench rules Alberta improperly excluded Pembina Institute from oilsands regulatory process ]

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