ALBERTA

Protecting Alberta's Environment Act Criticized By Opposition

11/06/2013 07:02 EST | Updated 11/06/2013 07:04 EST
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Oil is refined at a Syncrude Canada Ltd. mining site near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, on Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013. Canadian oil companies have benefited as the gap between oil-sands crude grade Western Canada Select and U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate narrowed from a record $42.50 a barrel in December. Photographer: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Alberta government may as well hire a group of ballerinas and a railway engineer to monitor the oilsands, the Alberta Liberals charge, thanks to a bill soon to be made law in the Alberta Legislature.

The Alberta government passed legislation on Tuesday night for an arm's-length panel to monitor the environment and help officials reduce pollution in years to come.

Opposition politicians say the legislation is a good idea, if not poorly executed.

The bill behind Protecting Alberta’s Environment Act, which would create a Science Advisory Panel as part of a new agency responsible for monitoring Alberta’s environment, outlines no requirements as to who is qualified to sit on the watchdog agency, Liberal Environment Critic Laurie Blakeman told The Huffington Post Alberta.

Blakeman proposed an amendment to the legislation, which she says was in line with the model of the European Environment Agency, asking for the eight members of the Science Advisory Panel have scientific qualifications.

But the amendment was shot down.

"I thought it was a very reasonable amendment and even had some support from the guys on the other side... but it still didn't pass," she said.

"How can we name people to a scientific panel someone that doesn't have any kind of scientific experience?"

The move may seem pedestrian but it will have long-term ramifications on the Alberta economy, Liberal Leader Raj Sherman said.

"This is undermining Alberta's credibility in regards to the environment and providing more ammunition to pipeline opponents," Sherman said.

"It will hurt the economy ... and make it harder to build pipelines to get our oil to market.

The international community, "is expecting environmental leadership from Alberta. The world is watching to see what we'll do," he said.

Bill 31, the legislation behind the Protecting Alberta’s Environment Act, is the result of years of concern regarding the operation of the oilsands and the energy industry's environmental impact in the province.

Environment Minister Diana McQueen says the act will create an agency to better monitor and disperse information on air, water and soil quality.

"We’re building a monitoring system to understand environmental impacts and help us manage responsible development. The new arm’s-length agency will ensure this work remains open, transparent and underpinned by science and facts," McQueen said in a statement last week.

"The agency is the right step forward towards ensuring that science-based and science-led monitoring of the environment - air, land, water and bio-diversity is taking place," said Howard Tennant, Chair of the Environmental Monitoring Management Board.

Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith says despite its independent status, the panel is likely to be tightly controlled by the government and used as a scapegoat when things go wrong.

With files from The Canadian Press

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