Jason Hale, Guest Columnist
MLA for Strathmore – Brooks Energy Critic,
Wildrose Official Opposition
Recently, Alberta’s PC government introduced the Responsible Energy Development Act (Bill 2 that would create a new one-stop shop regulator to help streamline the process of receiving project approval. This is a laudable goal, and is something industry has been asking to be accomplished.
However, as written, the bill would limit landowner rights and centralize powers.
That’s why the Wildrose Official Opposition introduced 12 amendments to avoid the kind of sweeping powers landowners fought so passionately against with former Bills 19, 36 and 50. These amendments were put forward with the goal of encouraging development, protecting landowner rights and respecting the environment.
We saw how the PC government amended Bills 19, 36, and now 50, but only after the uprising of landowners demanding property rights. With Bill 2, the PCs have the opportunity to get it right the first time.
Under current legislation, appeals are made to the Environmental Appeals Board, but landowners won’t have that option under Bill 2. It removes the rights of landowners to appeal decisions under the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act, the Water Act, and the Public Lands Act.
Wildrose amendments would restore an independent appeal process to give Alberta landowners confidence their appeal rights are not being taken away.
Bill 2 also makes no reference to “the public interest.” Wildrose proposes to enshrine those essential words in the new law. Given the expanded role of the regulator, it is even more important to consider the public interest when reviewing energy applications. Furthermore, Bill 2 needs to explicitly mention respect for landowner rights in the regulator’s mandate.
Another proposed Wildrose amendment would include an explicit requirement for the regulator to follow legislated timelines for the total regulatory process. This would give certainty to project owners their applications won’t get bogged down indefinitely and help make sure Bill 2 accomplishes what it sets out to do.
The new regulator’s board of directors needs to have the appropriate expertise. That’s why we are pushing for the board to be composed of at least two energy sector experts, a landowner rights expert and an environmental expert. As written, Bill 2 allows the minister to appoint anyone, effectively making members of the board what no one wants to see: patronage appointees.
As written, Bill 2 cancels Section 26 of the Energy Resource Conservation Act, which ensures those affected by extraction are involved from the beginning of the regulatory process and are fully informed. The Wildrose proposes reinstating the provisions of Section 26 that protect landowners.
Bill 2 would also give the minister of Energy the right to access personal information about applicants from the regulator. It is not at all clear why the minister would need to be so hands on as to require this access during the application process, and it could give the impression of political interference in decisions. Wildrose proposes the minister be excluded from accessing personal information.
Bill 2 presents opportunities for industry to receive faster approval of projects with the streamlining of the process. However, as written, it poses dangers for both landowners and industry.
The government should amend the mechanics of this bill to ensure landowner rights are protected to avoid the same uproar that followed the Land Stewardship Act, the Land Assembly Project Area Act and the Electric Statutes Amendment Act (former bills 19, 36 and 50.)
We can avoid another landowner fiasco. We just have to get it right the first time.
As the Wildrose Official Opposition energy critic, I look forward to hearing feedback. Please contact my office at Strathmore.Brooks@assembly.ab.ca.