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PART 3: The Pembina Institute responds to federal environmental cuts

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PART 3: Cuts will make federal government oversight more challenging

Lemphers agrees it makes no sense to cut the Environmental Emergencies Program now. “Given the fact that there are more energy projects going in the ground and oilsands development, it seems counter intuitive to be cutting back the amount of federal capacity when the demand for that capacity is even greater now. The federal government still has environmental legislation on the books that they have to enforce. But these cuts will make it more challenging for the federal government to improve their oversight. The NEB is also increasing the number of audits they are doing and the people doing those audits. There has been a beefing up of oversight from the NEB. It means there will be more audits that will take place if an incident happens. There are different penalties in place. Just because there are more audits it doesn’t mean that less spills will happen.”

Apparently, cleaning up oil spills is not easy so it is not that clear how successful the local and federal agencies have been at cleaning up these oil spills. Lemphers admits, “It’s a very difficult question to answer. There is still oil leaking from a ship that sank over 60 years ago in the Grenville channel not far from Enbridge’s proposed west coast tanker route. There is still oil showing up from the Exxon Valdez spill. Oil spills of this magnitude are very difficult to clean up, regardless of which government agency is in charge.”

Improved water and soil contamination monitoring

Lemphers shares what he knows about how strict and effective the new federal regulations will be as water and soil contamination is monitored with increased oil production. “There will be much improved oilsands water monitoring in place for groundwater and surface water. There have been many independent science experts of the current monitoring system and they have made recommendations for a better system. Right now there is a monitoring framework that is being developed and it has yet to be implemented on the ground. So time will tell whether or not the data generated from this new monitoring network will be used to inform future monitoring decisions and that the current industry bias will be addressed in the new governance structure for the monitoring network.”

Federal Environment Minister Kent stated in the Primetime interview “Environment Canada will continue with national responsibility for water quality with regards to the Athabasca oilsands and the program for water, air, and biodiversity monitoring. That of course is funded by industry and will not be affected by any of these changes. With regards to water quantity monitoring, that is in a provincial jurisdiction and municipalities and provinces have the powers to meter and to price so we are basically returning in those cases in terms of water quantity, not quality, but quantity, the authority that they already have.”

Lemphers adds, “Kent has it half right. It’s true that water quantity is a provincial jurisdiction but the federal government has obligations to protect fish habitat, species at risk, migratory birds and to manage transboundary water issues. There certainly is a need for more involvement with Environment Canada in how the oilsands are managed. Look at Duty Calls on Pembina site 2010.”

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