Despite growing opposition, Alberta’s energy minister won’t budge on energy regulator appointment

By Sheila Pratt, Edmonton Journal May 4, 2013

EDMONTON – Energy Minister Ken Hughes stands firmly behind his appointment of former oil executive Gerry Protti to run the province’s new energy regulator despite growing opposition from more than 30 landowner groups, First Nations and environmentalists.

“Gerry Protti is one of the most even-handed people in the province and he will be supported by Jim Ellis, as CEO. All I ask is for people to be fair-minded,” Hughes said Friday, defending Protti’s position as chair of the new Alberta Energy Regulator which will replace the Energy Resources Conservation Board in June.

Protti, a former Encana executive, was also the founding president of the industry’s high profile lobby group, the of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. Ellis, appointed as CEO of the new regulator earlier this week, is a former deputy minister in the environment and energy departments.

Unlike the ERCB, the new regulator will take on responsibility for issuing environmental permits for new pipelines and oilsand projects, as well as enforcement of environmental laws in the oilpatch — jobs now carried out by Alberta Environment.

That’s what worries many of the 30 groups who joined an earlier protest by land owners and the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation.

Protti’s close ties to the oilpatch raise concerns about possible bias in running the regulator, which must now also protect the environment, says the letter signed by the Alberta Wilderness Association, the Indigenous Environmental Network, the Alberta Federal of Labour, Public Interest Alberta, the National Farmers Union and others.

The move to a single regulator means “fewer people will regulate and enforce Alberta’s environmental regulations,” says the letter.

“It also concentrates power in fewer hands so that landowner rights and treaty impacts may not be properly addressed.”

Landowners have also lost their statutory right to hearings under the new Responsible Energy Development Act. The act also narrows the definition of who can qualify for standing to participate in a hearing.

“How can anyone have faith that they will get a fair, unbiased shake when the new chair couldn’t be more of an oil industry insider?” asked Don Bester with the Alberta Surface rights Group.

“It’s time we stopped letting the fox guard the henhouse,” said Mike Hudema of Greenpeace.

Hughes dismissed the concern that environmental and landowner groups won’t get a fair hearing under Protti’s leadership.

Protti will not be involved in hearings on specific projects, that job falls to a group of s commissioners or panel members appointed directly by government. Those appointments still have to be made, Hughes said.

Also, Protti will be assisted by a board of governors of at least three people, possibly more, also to be appointed by cabinet sometime in June, Hughes said.

“They will be people with an appreciation for the diversity of issues the regulator will be faced with,” he said.“People are forgetting this is not like the ERCB, it’s a whole new governing structure.”

The new board overseeing the energy regulator will not operate like a stakeholders’ group, where each member represents a specific interest, he said.

“People on the board will act in the interest of the organization and make sure it meets its responsibilities under the act,” Hughes said.

The energy regulator will take over sometime in June but it will take a year to move over all the environmental responsibilities currently handled in Alberta Environment, Hughes added.

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