Wildrose urges changes to energy regulator bill to protect landowners

By Dean Bennett, CP November 5, 2012

EDMONTON — Proposed new energy rules will leave landowners with no meaningful say or right of appeal when pipelines, oil wells or other projects are put on their land, Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith said Monday.

Smith said her party is in favour of fast-tracking regulatory processes under Bill 2, but not at the expense of landowner rights.

“We simply cannot keep making laws haphazardly and ending up back here years down the road trying to fix the messes that (the Tories) create,” Smith told a legislature news conference.

“These concerns are fixable.”

Smith said her caucus will put forward 12 amendments to address the concerns.

Similar problems, she said, have led officials under Premier Alison Redford and predecessor Ed Stelmach to pull back pieces of legislation for redrafting.

“I don’t think they learned the lesson of the three previous bills,” said Smith.

“This is the problem that happens when the government gets a super-large majority. They think they can do anything they want.”

Bill 2, the Responsible Energy Development Act, is currently being debated in the legislature.

It is designed to have all coal, oil, gas and oilsands projects approved through one arm’s-length regulatory body.

The bill is to simplify and speed up approvals for projects such as oil wells that are built on private land, while also respecting the rights and concerns of the landowner and the environment.

But Smith said Bill 2 fails to make sure that those rights and the public interest be part of any regulator decision.

She also notes that under the bill, appeals will no longer go to an independent body — the Environmental Appeal Board — but rather will be handled in-house by the regulator.

“You can’t have an appeal process where the regulator is judging whether or not it made the right decision in the first place.”

Smith also said there needs to be timelines so that approval processes don’t drag on for months on end.

She said Alberta already has that reputation and industry is concerned.

“You don’t know if it’s going to take a year or two years or more to get your approvals,” she said.

“We’ve talked to industry and generally they think somewhere around six months is the right amount for most energy development.

“But it’s up to the legislature to set those targets.”

Energy Minister Ken Hughes said the bill will deliver safeguards for landowners and the environment, while speeding up the process.

“That’s why we’re bringing about the changes to the regulatory process, so that we have a more competitive process,” he said.

“But also we’re not prepared to compromise on environmental quality one iota.”

NDP critic Rachel Notley said they will be offering up eight amendments to clarify similar concerns.

“I think (the act) compromises the interests of landowners. It compromises the interests of the environment as a whole. It’s going to mean that we rush to approval and we eliminate or minimize oversight by the public at a time when we desperately need it,” said Notley.

Kent Hehr of the Alberta Liberals said while he has to examine all 12 Wildrose amendments in detail to say which he would support, he agrees with Smith in principle.

“Everyone needs an opportunity to be heard and this legislation doesn’t do that,” said Hehr.

© Copyright (c) The Calgary Herald

Original source article: Wildrose urges changes to energy regulator bill to protect landowners