Canada's Alberta weighs future of environmental agency

Thu Sep 24, 2015 5:35pm EDT
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By Mike De Souza

CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - The government of the crude-producing province of Alberta does not want to stop the work of an independent environmental agency, the environment minister said on Thursday, but she is still reviewing options for its future as its funding winds down.

The agency, the Cumulative Environmental Management Association (CEMA), was set up in Alberta to advise regulators about oil sands impacts based on recommendations created by representatives government, industry, aboriginal communities and civil society groups.

Although the government informed CEMA in June that it would no longer require companies to cover costs of agency's annual C$5 million ($3.76 million) budget, Environment Minister Shannon Phillips said in an interview that Alberta was working on a larger plan to improve monitoring in the oil sands.

"That doesn't mean less engagement from communities," Phillips said. "It doesn't mean shutting down avenues or vehicles for communities to engage in the environment and resource development around them that affects them. It means more than that."

The aboriginal members have said CEMA allows them to engage directly in ongoing research in areas such as local air and water pollution from projects.

Alberta's oil sands, vast deposits of tar-like bitumen, are the world's third-largest crude reserves, but also carry some of the highest costs globally because of the scale of projects that require vast amounts of water and energy.

Canada's largest oil and gas lobby group, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, has called for CEMA to shut down, saying that monitoring work and research is continuing through other bodies.

Aboriginal communities have said the other research organizations do not consult or engage them adequately.   Continued...

Giant dump trucks haul raw tar sands at the Suncor tar sands mining operations near Fort McMurray, Alberta, September 17, 2014. REUTERS/Todd Korol