Photo: Pembina Institute
By Christopher Walsh, reporter
Despite assurances from both the federal and provincial governments that this week’s national Energy and Mines Ministers’ Conference is a step in the right direction for developing a national energy strategy, critics argue it’s come at the expense of environmental responsibility.
Alberta Energy Minister Ron Liepert, who co-chaired the meetings, says renewable energy was touched on, but that environmental issues are best left to environment ministers.
“I’m not gonna apologize for not addressing issues that legitimately belong in the portfolio of our environmental colleagues,” he said after Tuesday’s meeting in Kananaskis.
“We did not tread into what is the jurisdiction of the environment ministers. You’re not gonna have success if you try and do too much at once.”
Liepert added the meetings did accomplish the goal of getting territorial, provincial and federal governments on the same page and heading in a clear direction to meet priorities for a federal energy strategy.
“To pull them all together, have them agree on a document that says we need to move forward and here’s how, that’s a huge accomplishment,” he said.
That document focuses on five major policy planks including exploring new energy markets, a national pricing regime, promoting public knowledge of energy’s impact on individuals, fostering energy innovation and streamlining regulations to avoid overlaps and duplication.
But Chris Severson-Baker, managing director of the Pembina Institute, says while developing a national energy strategy is the right move, ignoring the environment is a serious mistake.
“An energy strategy in this day and age that doesn’t take into account the environment, particularly global climate change, is really missing the boat,” he said. “Right now we’re not seeing those links.”
The Pembina Institute is calling on both levels of government to consider the economic benefits of clean energy, addressing climate change and more emphasis on renewable energy. Severson-Baker says Canada is falling behind the rest of the world in developing more renewable energy projects.
“There wasn’t enough recognition of both the abundant supply, potential supply and the role that it needs to play,” he said. “It isn’t sustainable to continue to rely on high-carbon fossil fuels.”
Federal Natural Resource Minister Joe Oliver says the point of the meetings was to develop a unified approach to dealing with energy issues across the country. And, he says, that means taking the environment into account.
“We’re talking about a collaborative approach on a number of important issues to make sure we exploit our bountiful natural resources, but do it in an environmentally and responsible way,” he said.
One of the bigger issues discussed was regulatory reform to streamline the approval process for energy projects. Oliver says too much duplication in regulations is currently delaying projects that could go ahead with benefits for Canadians. He added he understands the regulations are there for good reason, but could be more efficient.
“Nothing is achieved for the environment to have two or three regulators looking at the same facts and coming to the same decisions,” Oliver said. “We’re not in any way undermining the integrity of the regulatory process, what we’re doing is looking to make it achieve its objective in a more efficient and effective way.”
Oliver also addressed concerns from provincial opposition parties that Alberta’s natural resources stay in the province’s control. Any fears over a new National Energy Program are unfounded, he says.
“Our government would never intrude on provincial jurisdiction and take away Alberta’s oil resources. This government will protect Alberta’s interests.”
Liepert was quick to quell any NEP suspicions, as well.
“That’s exactly what it’s not,” he said. “The National Energy Program was a top-down Ottawa-driven initiative that the provinces did not agree with. This is the exact opposite. This is the federal government, the provinces and territories sitting down and agreeing on what we need to do.”
Severson-Baker says while developing a national energy strategy is a positive step, what the governments really need to do is focus on priorities other than streamlining big energy projects.
“The thing that’s missing is a clear vision for how we’re going to meet the needs of Canadians in terms of their energy supply, have a strong economy, a sustainable energy supply and address climate change,” he said. “That’s really the big challenge and that’s the challenge that other countries are grappling with and are well ahead of Canada in thinking of those things.”
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