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Alberta

Alberta’s top court tells environmental appeals board to expand public hearings

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EDMONTON — Alberta’s highest court has told the province’s Environmental Appeals Board that it should have listened to wider public concerns before allowing an energy services company to dispose of radioactive waste in a landfill.

The Alberta Court of Appeal decision could force the province to consult more broadly and relax rules that critics say restrict who can speak at public hearings, said a lawyer who argued the case.

“The court’s message is clear and strong,” said Shaun Fluker of the University of Calgary’s Public Interest Law Clinic. “There is a role for public engagement and public participation in the decision-making that takes place.”

Fluker was representing a British Columbia-based company called Normtek Radiation Services. In 2016, Normtek filed an objection with Alberta’s Environmental Appeals Board over a proposal by Secure Energy Services of Calgary to accept radioactive oilfield waste at its site west of Edmonton.  

The arm’s-length board deals with appeals to decisions made under the province’s Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act. 

Normtek offers radioactive decontamination as one of its services and presented a long list of concerns. It said Secure’s proposal didn’t measure radioactivity adequately and failed to track radiation exposure for workers and groundwater.

It said Secure would accept oilfield waste that was significantly more radioactive than any other landfill in Canada. 

Normtek also suggested Secure’s permit application was being considered despite Alberta having no regulations for disposal of that type of waste.

Secure disputed the claims in documents filed with the appeals board.

The board never considered any of Normtek’s concerns. It ruled that because the company was based in B.C., it didn’t meet the test of being directly affected by Secure’s plans. Normtek was considered to have no standing. 

The Appeal Court called that restrictive, artificial and unreasonable. 

“The board misinterpreted the law,” said the Dec. 11 judgment. “The law is simply that standing is a preliminary matter to be dealt with, if it can be, at the outset of the proceeding. Sometimes it cannot be.”

Fluker said the court struck down a standard that the Environmental Appeals Board and the Alberta Energy Regulator have been using for years. 

“This is a long-standing and widespread issue,” he said.

Fluker notes the board used the question of standing to dismiss 200 statements of concern filed over an application to sell water from the Rocky Mountains. And the energy regulator has cancelled public hearings on energy projects after none of the interveners met the standing test. 

Secure has been operating under its permit since 2016. The permit has been renewed twice and is up for renewal in 2021. 

An Alberta Environment spokeswoman said the department is reviewing the ruling. The appeals board was not immediately available for comment. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 12, 2021.

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Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

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Alberta

Indigenous business coalition leader says Keystone XL denial will hurt communities

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CALGARY — The leader of a group promoting Indigenous participation in oil and gas development as a solution to poverty on reserves says the cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline by U.S. President Joe Biden is a major setback.

Dale Swampy, president of the National Coalition of Chiefs, says the decision means fewer jobs in the short term for Indigenous people in constructing the pipeline and supplying goods and services for it.

He adds it also implies more long-term unemployment for those who work in exploring and developing conventional and oilsands projects in Western Canada because it impedes investment in production growth.

The end of the pipeline means Natural Law Energy, which represents five First Nations in Alberta and Saskatchewan, will no longer be able to make an equity investment of up to $1 billion in Keystone XL, as well as a plan by builder TC Energy Corp. to make similar deals with American Indigenous groups.

But Swampy, a member of the Samson Cree Nation in central Alberta, points out that the impact on Indigenous people goes beyond that, noting that four of his five sons work in oil and gas but one of them has been unable to find a job in the current downturn.

In a report published in December, energy industry labour data firm PetroLMI said about 13,800 self-identified Indigenous people were directly employed in Canada’s oil and gas industry in 2019. That’s just over seven per cent of total industry employment, compared to three per cent in other industries.

“It’s quite a blow to the First Nations that are involved right now in working with TC Energy to access employment training and contracting opportunities,” said Swampy.

“Within Alberta, First Nations are pretty closely entrenched with all of the activities occurring with the oil and gas industry. Any change, especially a big change like this, really affects our bands’ ability to keep our people employed.”

Swampy is a former CEO of the Samson band. The coalition he heads was created in 2017 by Indigenous equity partners in the cancelled Northern Gateway pipeline and has a membership of about 80 bands.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 22, 2021.

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The Canadian Press

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Alberta

Alberta premier wants direct compensation from U.S. if Keystone XL pipeline dead

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EDMONTON —
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is making another demand of Justin Trudeau over the Keystone XL pipeline ahead of the prime minister’s  call today with new U.S. President Joe Biden.

In a letter to Trudeau, Kenney reiterates that the prime minister must press for a meeting with Biden so that Canada can make its case for the pipeline, which Biden cancelled this week on his first day in office.

Kenney also repeats that if that fails, Trudeau must take retaliatory measures such as trade sanctions.

But he also asks that Trudeau press Biden for direct compensation.

Kenney says Alberta and pipeline builder TC Energy Corp. invested in the project believing it was going ahead under stable review and governance.

The premier committed $1.5 billon to the project last year, with another $6 billion in loan guarantees.

Biden made it clear last spring that he would cancel the Keystone line if he became president. He said that shipping more product from Alberta’s oilsands did not mesh with his broader objective of battling climate change.

The Keystone line would have taken more Alberta oil to refineries and ports in the United States to relieve a North American bottleneck that has led to discounts and sometimes sharp reductions in the price of Alberta’s oil.

In the letter dated Thursday, Kenney says the Keystone project that Biden once rejected is now a different, more environmentally friendly undertaking.

“Keystone XL will be the first pipeline of its kind to operate at net-zero emissions on its first day of operations and will purchase 100 per cent of its power load from renewable energy sources,” Kenney writes.

“I propose that we approach Washington together to begin a conversation about North American energy and climate policy.”

If that doesn’t happen, he is pushing for “proportionate economic consequences.”

“At the very least, I call upon the government of Canada to press the U.S. administration to compensate TC Energy and the government of Alberta for billions of dollars of costs incurred in the construction of Keystone XL to date.

“These costs were incurred on the assumption that the United States had a predictable regulatory framework and based on the presidential permit authorizing the Keystone XL border crossing, which was installed in the summer of 2019.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 22, 2021.

 

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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