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Eas­ier oil­sands ap­provals

EDMONTON Oil­sands projects that get the green light from the Al­berta En­ergy Reg­u­la­tor will go ahead with­out a fi­nal stamp of ap­proval from cab­i­net if an om­nibus bill tabled by the UCP govern­ment passes.

Bill 22, the Red Tape Re­duc­tion Im­ple­men­ta­tion Act, which re­ceived first read­ing in the Leg­isla­tive As­sem­bly on Thurs­day, makes 14 changes to a num­ber of dif­fer­ent pieces of leg­is­la­tion in­volv­ing six Al­berta min­istries.

Grant Hunter, as­so­ciate min­is­ter of red tape re­duc­tion, said the changes will im­prove ef­fi­ciency and get peo­ple back to work as the prov­ince gets back up and run­ning fol­low­ing the COVID-19 shut­down.

“Un­needed red tape has been sti­fling Al­ber­tans for far too long and it’s put us at a com­pet­i­tive dis­ad­van­tage to other ju­ris­dic­tions,” Hunter said be­fore the bill was tabled. “Now more than ever it’s time to get con­trol of red tape in this prov­ince. Our econ­omy needs this boost.”

Hunter said changes to the Oil Sands Con­ser­va­tion Act elim­i­nat­ing cab­i­net’s fi­nal OK would speed up project ap­provals by up to 10 months.

But NDP en­vi­ron­ment critic Mar­lin Sch­midt ac­cused the govern­ment of mak­ing it­self less ac­count­able to the pub­lic.

“No one elected the AER. The AER is not a part of a sys­tem of govern­ment rep­re­sent­ing all the per­spec­tives, held ac­count­able to the pub­lic,” he said Thurs­day.

The AER is re­spon­si­ble for reg­u­lat­ing oil, oil­sands, nat­u­ral gas, and coal projects in Al­berta. The reg­u­la­tor makes de­ci­sions re­gard­ing de­vel­op­ment ap­pli­ca­tions, com­pli­ance, mon­i­tor­ing and project clo­sures.

Oil­sands projects can be­come po­lit­i­cal is­sues even af­ter they are ap­proved by the reg­u­la­tor. Hunter said the reg­u­la­tor will con­tinue to have re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, in­clud­ing mak­ing sure that First Na­tions are ap­pro­pri­ately con­sulted.

“The duty to con­sult is still the law and we still have that re­spon­si­bil­ity. So AER will have to have that re­spon­si­bil­ity and make sure that they take care of it in the best way,” he said.

Sch­midt said it’s the Crown that has the con­sti­tu­tional re­quire­ment to con­sult with First Na­tions but this bill passes that re­spon­si­bil­ity onto the AER. “This is a com­plete ab­di­ca­tion of the role of the pre­mier and ex­ec­u­tive coun­cil to work with Indige­nous lead­ers on a na­tion-to-na­tion ba­sis,” he said.

Mean­while, Bill 22 would elim­i­nate the En­ergy Ef­fi­ciency Al­berta (EEA) agency.

The EEA, which was cre­ated in 2017 by the NDP govern­ment to of­fer in­cen­tives for things like so­lar pan­els and home im­prove­ments to boost en­ergy ef­fi­ciency, al­ready had pro­grams cut in 2019. If the bill passes, the agency would be ab­sorbed into the Emis­sions Re­duc­tions Al­berta (ERA) agency.

Hunter said the govern­ment doesn’t need to have “two agen­cies that are do­ing the same thing.”

Sch­midt said he’s not sur­prised that the EEA is be­ing dis­solved fol­low­ing last year’s cuts but said the pro­grams cre­ated jobs and helped lower the cost of liv­ing. He de­nies the EEA and ERA do the same thing.

“En­ergy Ef­fi­ciency Al­berta was a very-much con­sumer-fo­cused agency. They pro­vided re­bates and pro­grams to Al­berta con­sumers whereas the Emis­sions Re­duc­tions Al­berta pro­vides fi­nan­cial sup­port to green­house gas pro­grams in ma­jor in­dus­tries,” he said.

Hunter would not say whether the EEA’S re­main­ing pro­grams would con­tinue, de­fer­ring in­stead to the en­vi­ron­ment min­is­ter.

In a news re­lease Thurs­day af­ter­noon, the govern­ment said the EEA will con­tinue to hon­our pre-ex­ist­ing pro­gram com­mit­ments un­til the agency closes on Sept. 30.

Al­berta’s emis­sions-re­duc­tion ef­forts will fo­cus on the com­mer­cial and in­dus­trial sec­tors, which ac­count for more than 65 per cent of the prov­ince’s to­tal emis­sions, the re­lease says.

Chris Sev­er­son-baker, the Al­berta di­rec­tor of the Pem­bina In­sti­tute, says the de­ci­sion to get rid of the EEA feels like go­ing back in time.

When the EEA was cre­ated in 2017, Al­berta was one of the last ju­ris­dic­tions in North Amer­ica to cre­ate an agency fo­cused on en­ergy ef­fi­ciency, he said.

He said the kind of small-in­dus­try and res­i­den­tial pro­grams that the prov­ince ap­pears to be back­ing away from were suc­cess­ful and ev­ery dol­lar in­vested re­sulted in three dol­lars of eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity.

He said the new ERA has the po­ten­tial to do a bet­ter job per­haps by pro­vid­ing mul­ti­ple ser­vices to the same in­dus­trial part­ners but groups like his will be watch­ing to make sure the ERA’S man­date does ex­pand and that leads to emis­sion re­duc­tions.

The news re­lease says the govern­ment will be work­ing with the ERA on new ideas to re­duce emis­sions and re­lease de­tails when they are avail­able.

Other changes un­der the leg­is­la­tion in­clude amend­ing the Sur­face Rights Act to al­low more landown­ers to be com­pen­sated for oil and gas de­vel­op­ment on their prop­erty with­out hav­ing to go to court. The max­i­mum award the board could hand out to un­paid landown­ers would be in­creased from $25,000 to $50,000.

The bill would re­move the Cana­dian res­i­dency re­quire­ment for boards of di­rec­tors for busi­nesses and the Al­berta res­i­dency re­quire­ment for boards of non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tions would be elim­i­nated.

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