Coalition says Alberta Energy Regulator captured by Big Carbon, calls for overhaul of agency

PV staff  

After repeated failures to adequately regulate energy development in Alberta, a new coalition of eight environmental, Indigenous, scientific and community organizations are calling for the removal of fossil fuel representatives from the Board of Directors at the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER), among other demands.

The group points to mounting evidence which shows that the AER operates with limited accountability and without sufficient public transparency, while having vast discretionary powers. The evidence indicates that rather than serving the best interests of Indigenous communities, the environment and the Alberta public at-large, the AER is held captive by the interests of the fossil fuel industry.

This new coalition – composed of Alberta Wilderness Association (AWA), Polluter Pay Federation (PPF), Keepers of the Water, Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE), Alberta Environmental Network (AEN), Calgary Climate Hub, Alberta Beyond Fossil Fuels and Treeline Ecological Research – points out several examples of Alberta’s inability to sufficiently regulate the fossil fuel industry. At the top of the list is the AER’s abysmal response to the leak and spill of tailings at Imperial’s Kearl Mine by withholding information from impacted Indigenous communities for nine months.

As well, the group cites the AER’s decision to not reconsider its approval of Suncor’s operational plan for the McClelland Lake Wetland Complex despite evidence of its flaws; the more than 1.4 trillion litres of toxic tailings sprawling across more than 300 square kilometres of northern Alberta without a reclamation plan; persistent delays with the timely, public release of annual reporting data from the Oil Sands Monitoring (OSM) Program since 2019; and the AER’s continued authorization of fossil energy projects that are incompatible with Canada’s commitment to reducing GHG emissions by 40-45 percent by 2030.

New research published in the journal Science shows that the tar sands industry is under-reporting harmful emissions by up to 6,300 percent. Whether through design or incompetence, AER is complicit in this disinformation by allowing it to continue.

Furthermore, AER is allowing fossil fuel corporations to bilk the public for billions of dollars. This includes $250 million in unpaid property taxes owed to rural municipalities from oil and gas companies, and an estimated $260 billion that Alberta still has not collected from corporations for the cleanup of both conventional oil and gas, and oilsands liabilities.

The coalition recognizes that, while AER is failing to function as a credible and legitimate regulator of energy development in Alberta, the agency is not solely responsible for these issues. The Government of Alberta, specific legislation such as the Responsible Energy Development Act, and the fossil fuel industry have all played a role in enabling the harmful impacts of fossil fuel development.

The group is calling for sweeping changes to the way the fossil fuel industry is regulated in the province to begin prioritizing Indigenous communities, Alberta’s ecosystems and the public. The six specific proposals are for the fossil fuel industry to be excluded from the AER Board of Directors; for Indigenous communities’ decision-making power to be prioritized over energy industry activities; for AER to introduce a genuine interest test in its hearing and appeal process; for Alberta’s Mine Financial Security Program (MFSP) and Liability Management Framework (LMF) to be revised to uphold the “polluter pays” principle; for royalty rates on fossil fuel projects to be increased; and for AER to establish and enforce strict timelines for reclamation of mine sites.

In announcing the new coalition, Alberta Wildlife Association conservation specialist Phillip Meintzer said that AER urgently needs to change direction.

“The AER has recently been given the authority to regulate both mineral mining and carbon capture despite substantial evidence that it fails to properly regulate the existing industries under its jurisdiction. Alberta cannot risk repeating the mistakes of the past. Without significant changes to Alberta’s regulatory system, these industries have the potential to do further harm to the environment and communities across the province.”

Kevin Timoney of Treeline Ecological Research echoed this view and added that the stakes are global in nature.

“There can be no return to the good old days of clean coal and ethical oil. They don’t exist and they never have. If we fail to adapt, we face the prospect of mass migrations of desperate people and a breakdown of international trade and alliances. The signs are all around us. For each year that our destructive activities continue unabated, we increase the likelihood that the Earth’s systems will become inimical to advanced civilization. The facts are the facts, and the facts are ominous. With our eyes on a clock ticking down to midnight, we look to our leaders, many of whom are working to discredit science and sow mistrust and confusion. Time, and our luck, are running out.”

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