Promises promises promises, Alberta government “hopes” to finally have long promised environmental monitoring panel running by early 2014

Alberta hopes to have environmental monitoring panel running by early 2014 by Bob Weber, Canadian Press, October 29, 2013, Calgary Herald
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. Ernie Hui, the environment deputy minister charged with creating the new agency, knows there’s a lot to do to get it on its feet by the government’s announced target of early 2014. “(Timelines) will be very aggressive,” he said. But candidates for the board of governors and scientific advisory panel are coming forward, he said. They include business leaders, scientists and environmentalists. 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. “Some of those people are going to have to step up to the plate.” Hui acknowledges the agency won’t have much credibility if local people and aboriginals aren’t supportive. “Do we need those First Nations to be engaged? Absolutely. But we also need the local groups there too.” Tennant said finding a leader to run the show is going to be crucial for the agency’s long-term success. He said it has to be someone trusted by both the scientific and business communities, as well as the environment minister. Given the tight timelines to get the agency running, Hui suggested it initially could be led by someone from Alberta Environment. Tennant said industry has assured him informally that it will pay its share of the freight. “They said, ‘Howard, you guys come back with an appropriate business plan and we’ll talk about the money.”’ 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.” [Emphasis added]

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Alberta gets tough after screwing up oilsands protection by Don Braid, October 17, 2012Calgary Herald
And it was evident Wednesday in the surprisingly forceful words of Dr. Howard Tennant, who will head up the first phase of this ambitious agency’s growth. … Two studies found that oilsands monitoring was severely substandard despite years of provincial assurances that everything was top-notch. … It’s unwise to count on the feds for regulation — just ask the slaughterhouse workers in Brooks, who are laid off because 46 full-time federal inspectors failed to detect tainted beef in the plant. But from another angle, the whole business is infuriating. It’s happening only because the province screwed up environmental protection so badly that oilsands development was seriously threatened. … Few Albertans will have any problem with better environmental monitoring all over Alberta. We need it badly. … If this makes you think of Alberta Health Services, please stop. You could hurt yourself. [Emphasis added]

Tennant to head enviro monitoring panel by Dave Mabell, March 14, 2012Lethbridge Herald
The panel’s key recommendation, Tennant said, was an independent environmental monitoring commission “as a science-driven, arm’s length and operationally excellent public agency.”… “This is tough stuff,” he said in an interview. Persuading government to allow scientists that much authority “has never been done before.” In the face of many pressures, Tennant said the new monitoring agency is essential to preserving the province’s environment. “We have to come up with ways of measuring, recording, interpreting and reporting what’s going on in the environment – with a central focus that we’ll make better decisions about regulations, about remediation, and about evolving problems that we don’t know about.” … Joining Tennant on the panel are five Albertans from a variety of backgrounds. They include a former president of the TransCanada pipeline group…the deputy minister of environment and water, and a former deputy minister who’s moved over to the private sector. Their independence as been questioned, however. Rachel Notley, the New Democrats’ environment critic, says panel member Neil McCrank – formerly chairman of the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board – is now part of a law firm that donated $5,000 to Alison Redford’s leadership campaign. The opposition party also says panel member Hal Kvisle, a board member of Talisman Energyand the Bank of Montreal, gave $4,000 to her campaign. And Tennant donated $500 to (now deputy premier) Doug Horner’s unsuccessful ampaign, Notley says. [Emphasis added]

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