Groups demand that head of new Alberta energy regulator resign before he starts by Bob Weber, May 3, 2013, Canadian Press
Three dozen landowner, labour, aboriginal and environmental groups are demanding that the man hired to head Alberta’s new energy regulator resign before he even starts. A letter signed by such organizations as the Treaty 8 First Nations, the Alberta Federation of Labour and the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment says industry insider Gerry Protti is not the appropriate choice. “I’ve seen biased appointments before, but this one tops the list,” said Don Bester of the Alberta Surface Rights Group, which represents landowners. “There is no neutral side to this thing with him. His main theme throughout his life is oil and gas. You can’t change a person’s way of thinking by appointing him to a board and saying, ‘Be neutral. Don’t be biased,'” Bester said. Energy Minister Ken Hughes defended the appointment and urged opponents to wait until the entire board is named. “I have every confidence that Gerry Protti is a thoughtful Albertan who recognizes the importance of balance between energy development and environmental and landowner concerns,” Hughes said. “But if that isn’t enough for people, I urge them to wait until we appoint the full group.” Protti is the founding president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the industry’s main lobby group. He was also an executive for Encana, the energy company that preceded Cenovus. Protti was the industry’s representative during the design of the new board, which takes over in June. It will combine the regulatory functions of the old board as well as much of the enforcement and investigation currently done by Alberta Environment.
“Our organization was invited to Edmonton to go over this bill,” said Bester. “Arriving at 8 o’clock in the morning, there was a wall 40 feet long and eight or nine feet high with nothing but those flipover charts of what industry had already put down to the government. “It was all decided before we even got there. And the main orchestrator of that piece of legislation, Gerry Protti, was on the podium telling us exactly how this was going to come down.” Now, Bester suggested, the lobbyist who helped design the legislation will get to implement it.
It won’t help the reputation of a province that’s already struggling to convince customers that its oil and natural gas resources are developed responsibly, said Mike Hudema of Greenpeace. “We have a lot of different players looking for reassurances that the Alberta government is serious about getting tough on cleaning up its atrocious environmental record,” he said. “If you ever wanted to see how serious the Alberta government was in balancing its energy wants with its environmental concerns, I think you just need to look to Mr. Protti’s appointment. It’s pretty stark that the Alberta government is much more concerned about protecting the oil and gas industry than they are about protecting local communities or the environment.”
The letter also criticizes the new board itself. “Fewer people will regulate and enforce Alberta’s environmental regulations. It also concentrates power in fewer hands so that landowner rights and treaty impacts may not be properly addressed. “This new approach appears to favour proponents and limits the opportunity of interveners to raise valid concerns.” Hughes played down those concerns, He said Albertans — and international observers — will be satisfied with the new board’s performance once they see it in action. “The proof is in the pudding. Clearly, Alberta has very strong standards. I challenge any jurisdiction in America to compare what we’re doing in this province.” The public will still have access to the courts to appeal the regulator’s decisions. But the new approach chokes off internal avenues of appeal that existed under the old system for aboriginal and public concerns. It also makes it harder to gain standing to appear before a regulatory hearing. Panel members who will run hearings on project applications will be appointed directly by government. [Emphasis added]
Critics condemn Alberta’s new energy regulator by Sheila Pratt, May 2, 2013, Edmonton Journal
Rural landowners joined a northern First Nation this week in calling for the removal of former oil executive Gerry Protti recently appointed head of the new agency that will regulate oil, gas and coal development. Protti, a former executive with Encana, is also a founding member of the industry’s lobby group, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. Those factors raise serious concerns, some farmers and ranchers says. “How can anyone have faith they’ll get a fair shake when the new chair couldn’t be more of oil industry insider?” asked Don Best of the Alberta Surface Rights Group and the United Landowners of Alberta. … The Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation raised similar concerns earlier this week. They suggested Protti’s history promoting the energy industry makes him a poor choice as head of the new regulator which also has environmental responsibilities. “We question his ability to chair the Alberta Energy Regulator with transparency and accountability,” given his corporate credentials and his years as a lobbyist for the Energy Policy Institute of Canada, Chief Allan Adam said.
With three weeks to go until the Alberta Energy Regulatory takes over from the Energy Resources Conservation Board, the government has yet to announce the remaining board appointments. So far, there’s no one with expertise in land issues, said Keith Wilson, a lawyer specializing in landowner rights. Earlier this week, Energy Minister Ken Hughes appointed Jim Ellis, a former deputy minister in environment and energy, to work under Protti. That’s not the balance landowners are looking for, Wilson said. Under the new regulator, land owners lose their statutory rights to get a hearing, he said, adding he’s not convinced the new agency will function properly. For decades, the ERCB and Alberta Environment have conduct their investigations differently and it’s unclear which system will prevail. … How do you judge the competing interests of landowners, industry and the environmental concerns? he asked. The energy regulator will provide one-stop shopping for oil companies to get permits for new projects. The agency will take over from Alberta Environment in issuing environmental and water permits as well as enforcement of environment laws. [Emphasis added]
ACFN asks for resignation of Alberta Energy Regulator chair by Vincent McDermott, May 1, 2013, Fort McMurray Today
Worried their concerns about the oilsands will be ignored by the province, the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation is demanding the resignation of Alberta’s new chair of the energy regulator group. In early April, Gerry Protti was appointed chairman of the Alberta Energy Regulator. Protti is also the founding president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, a Calgary-based lobby group promoting Canada’s oil industry. He has worked with several energy companies, including Cenovus and EnCana, and works for the Energy Policy Institute of Canada. Protti’s new job tasks him with leading a board monitoring environmental issues. “I think appointing pretty much anyone else would have been better,” said Eriel Deranger, a spokesperson for the ACFN. “How can Gerry Protti be diligent to First Nations’ concerns and uphold treaty rights, when he clearly has no previous experience engaging First Nations and still has such strong industry ties?” The Tories argue Protti’s resume will be balanced by the other board members, which have yet to be selected. … The opposition parties are divided about Protti’s appointment. NDP MLA Rachel Notley called the appointment “embarrassing” in a news release, while Wildrose leader Danielle Smith told the Calgary Herald in early April that Protti was qualified for the job. “Instead of better engagement they appoint the former founder of CAPP as the chair of the new Alberta Energy Regulator? This is unacceptable and insulting,” said ACFN chief Allan Adam.
New Alberta Energy Regulator will take on role as environmental enforcer by Sheila Pratt, May 1, 2013, Edmonton Journal
If hundreds of ducks die on a tailings pond or a pipeline bursts, Alberta Environment won’t be investigating or be involved in any charges against oil companies. Those powers — to investigate spills and infractions, and apply penalties — move to an arm’s-length agency, the new Alberta Energy Regulator, a body run by cabinet appointees reporting to the minister of energy and mostly paid for by the industry. The AER is expected to be operating by June. Energy Minister Ken Hughes said he’s confident the new AER will take on its new role as environmental enforcer role with vigour. To assist in that, the government recently increased fines for polluters up to $500,000, he said. “Our commitment to environmental standards is not weakened one bit” under the new regulator, said Hughes. “What we’re creating is an entirely new regulator, not just a reboot of the (Energy Resources Conservation Board).” The new board, yet to be appointed, has an obligation to take on this role appropriately, he added. But critics are worried that environmental protection will take a back seat to the agency’s other role advancing the oil, gas and coal industries.
New Democratic environment critic Rachel Notley said the ERCB rarely, if ever, laid charges and has a weak enforcement record. For instance, the ERCB set up Directive 74 requiring companies to shrink the size of toxic tailings ponds, but then exempted seven of nine projects from the new regulations, she noted. “Environment protection is already subordinate to development issues and the new agency is the ERCB on steroids,” she said. The energy industry pushed for the single regulator which will issue all approval permits required by environment laws, rather than having the environment department share that job. Under the old system, it was the responsibility of the environment department to build a case to lay charges and take it to Crown prosecutors for a final decision, noted Notley. In the new system, the energy regulator will be the gatekeeper on whether charges are recommended to the justice department and that’s a concern, said Notley, especially as the AER is headed by a former oilpatch insider Gerry Protti, a founding member of industry lobby group the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.
But Hughes disagreed, saying “people should have confidence” in the new agency. The CEO working under Protti is Jim Ellis, a former deputy of both the energy and environment department, so “he has seen the balance” that’s needed between the “two sides of the same coin — the economy and the environment.” University of Calgary law professor Shaun Fluker said it’s too soon say whether there will be fewer charges laid or weaker enforcement of environmental laws under the new regulator. “On the face of it, there could be problems, but that could all be alleviated by a separation of the two functions (issuing approval permits and enforcement of the law),” said Fluker, adding he’s waiting to see regulation under the Responsible Energy Development Act, or Bill 2, which sets up the new regulator. But Hughes said the point of the new regulator is to have “one coherent approach” to energy development “that will provide more certainty about the rules of the road of regulator, environmental groups and landowners.” Ecojustice lawyer Melissa Gorrie said it’s important that the new regulator acquire the expertise and independence of investigators in the environment department, but that’s not yet known. “We don’t want industry-led investigations.” She also called on the government to release draft regulations on investigations. “Right now, it’s all in a black box.” Hughes could not say whether Alberta Environment investigators would move over to the new regulator. “That depends on the AER’s needs.” But it would be “inappropriate” if the board of the AER hired industry investigators to look into spills or other incidents, he added. Albertans should realize the new regulator is operating in “an entirely new policy context” for the energy industry, he noted, including the new Policy Management Office. This office will co-ordinate discussions between the energy and environment departments on policy issues, he added. Those policies will guide the regulator.
Alberta Environment declined to comment whether any or all if its seasoned investigators will move over to the new regulator. The new energy regulator will enforce six pieces of legislation, including the Water Act, the Environment Enhancement and Protection Act, for the energy industry only — though it will likely take a year to complete the transition into the new job as chief environmental enforcer. [Emphasis added]
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