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News Brief
January 23, 2014

An overview of the Northern Gateway decision report 


The proposed Northern Gateway Project (the Project) consists of two pipelines and a marine terminal. The pipelines are anticipated to follow a 1 km wide route from Bruderheim, Alberta to Kitimat, B .C., covering over 1,170 km of private and public lands, as well as lands claimed by various Aboriginal groups.


Over a period of several months the National Energy Board, appointed as a Joint Review Panel (JRP) for the Project, conducted a hearing to consider matters under the National Energy Board Act and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act 


In late December 2013 the JRP released its decision report. The report is over 500 pages long and includes 209 conditions; not exactly light weekend reading. Thankfully Brenda Heelan Powell, ELC Staff Counsel, not only read the report; she provided an overview. 


You can read her overview on the ELC blog.

Grousing about the value of species or "how much for that caribou in the window?"

The first emergency protection order under the federal Species at Risk Act was issued in December 2013 and it applies a list of prohibitions to federal and provincial Crown lands for habitat of the Greater Sage Grouse. As existing facilities and activities remain largely untouched by the order, it seems likely that Greater Sage Grouse will not be delisted any time soon. 


My focus for this blog is not the prohibitions of the order, or the fact that an order was issued at all (which is significant) but rather to comment on the Regulatory Impact Assessment Statement (RIAS) appended to the order. A RIAS for a regulation is useful as it provides a level of transparency as to why a regulation is put in place, providing a window into the cost-benefit analysis that goes into deciding whether a regulation has struck the right "balance." Granted this only occurs when a regulation is proposed as opposed to when a decision has been made to not regulate an activity, where transparency in decision making is abysmal.


Nonetheless a RIAS allow us to delve into the difficulties about how we place value on things that are not typically or easily quantified. Generally, when reading a RIAS one tends to get the feeling that regulatory decisions are being made primarily on the basis of a cost-benefit analysis. The legislative purpose of protecting non-market values, like human health and the environment, seem to play second fiddle.


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Upcoming event
Reclaiming Tomorrow Today: Regulatory reforms for timely abandonment and reclamation of well sites (Webinar)

Alberta has a significant number of suspended and abandoned well sites which represent ongoing environmental and fiscal liabilities.  To minimize these liabilities abandonment and reclamation of well sites and related infrastructure needs to occur in a timely fashion.  Unless we promote timelier reclamation at the end of a well site's life, our ability to manage cumulative effects on biodiversity and landscape integrity will continue to suffer.  


Jason Unger, Staff Counsel at the ELC, will discuss issues around well site reclamation and abandonment and the Centre's recommendations for regulatory reform. He will also provide an overview of other jurisdictions that have dealt with these issues and invites a discussion around barriers to timely reclamation at the end of the session.


Tuesday February 11, 2014 - 12:00 PM to 12:45 PM MST

This is a free online event thanks to support from the Alberta Law Foundation, but donations are greatly appreciated. 


Register Now!

ELC Comments on Surface Water Quality Guidelines (pdf)

How a grassroots group became a major donor

In 2008, a small group of landowners gathered around a kitchen table to discuss their concerns about a coal gasification project proposed near Round Hill Alberta, about an hour east of Edmonton. Residents were concerned about how this proposal would affect their quality of life and livelihood. Over time, they formed a nonprofit group called The Voice of Community and Land Society (VOCAL), with membership swelling to 200. Throughout the process, they were faced with complex scientific literature, confusing regulatory processes and legal jargon, and they were unclear about their rights. VOCAL called the Environmental Law Centre, which became an important source of information and support. They made many calls to staff lawyers, who provided counselling over the phone. They attended some of our webinars and invited our lawyers to present at a number of community meetings.


"The whole process is overwhelming and it's nice to have someone explain it to us" says Jane Oracheski, a VOCAL member. "The Centre provided us with information that was easy to understand. Your staff helped us understand the issues and what our rights were. We are not rich - we were grateful to have someone to call without charging a fee."


In late-2009, the project proponent announced it was putting the project temporarily on hold, citing changing market conditions and the economic slowdown as reasons. VOCAL continued to engage with residents over the years, but at a public meeting in April 2013, they decided to officially disband.


As they closed down their operations, VOCAL chose to donate nearly $3000 to the Environmental Law Center with the funds remaining from their efforts. We are grateful for this generous donation, and honoured to know our services were so helpful to them. This gift will support other groups who use our Environmental Law Information service to help with their environmental concerns.


"I think I can safely say we are all very proud of what VOCAL stood for and what we accomplished in a very short time," says Bill Sears, one of the founding members. "Of all the groups and organizations that we worked with and learned from we felt our [donation] to the ELC would go the farthest in supporting and promoting what VOCAL stood for.


Through dedication and a lot of hard work by many people I think we proved that a grass root organization that started around a kitchen table can be an effective voice for change. I would like to thank the ELC for helping us with that."


To learn more about how the Environmental Law Centre can help your community group, visit our Environmental Law Information webpage or call 1-800-661-4238.


To learn more about VOCAL or view their photo gallery and videos, visit www.vocalalberta.com.

Leah Orr
Communications Coordinator


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