Cumulative environmental defects

Cumulative environmental defects

Cumulative environmental defects


The Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development released a report yesterday covering the federal government’s climate change plans and cumulative environmental effects assessment of oil sands projects. The Commissioner identifies several significant deficiencies in federal environmental management.

On the climate change side the Commissioner notes that the climate change plans are not in compliance with governing legislation (the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act) and that the plans were not sufficient to meet the Kyoto obligations.   The Commissioner goes on to note that

despite allocations of more than $9 billion, the government has yet to establish the management systems and tools needed to achieve, measure, and report on greenhouse gas emission reductions. Key elements missing include consistent quality assurance and verification systems to report actual GHG emission reductions and clear and consistent financial reporting systems for the measures in the plans.

On the cumulative effects assessment of oilsands the Commissioner concluded:

that incomplete environmental baselines and environmental data monitoring systems needed to understand changing environmental conditions in northern Alberta have hindered the ability of Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Environment Canada to consider in a thorough and systematic manner the cumulative environmental effects of oil sands projects in that region.

Of specific note was the Commissioner’s observation that notwithstanding deficiencies in oilsands assessments that

the federal government did not take the opportunity to modify terms of reference in later projects to deal with key concerns previously raised by federal authorities, in areas such as water quantity and quality, fish and fish habitat, land and wildlife, and air. In our opinion, federal authorities should have used the sound management practice of adapting terms of reference over time in order to address identified gaps in information being provided to them.

The federal government in its press release responding to the Commissioner’s report relies on its “world-class monitoring plan” to show how it is “committed to responsible development of oil sands”.  A monitoring program that is set up decades late to address failings that were readily known at the time of the project reviews should not be lauded.

In the broader scheme of things the Commissioner’s report can be added to an indictment of oilsands regulatory decisions that took place with vast gaps in knowledge of environmental effects.  The scapegoat in these decisions to approval oilsands projects was reliance on “mitigation” processes that were purportedly set up to deal with cumulative effects and have failed on most fronts.




The Environmental Law Centre (ELC) has been seeking strong and effective environmental laws since it was founded in 1982. The ELC is dedicated to providing credible, comprehensive and objective legal information regarding natural resources, energy and environmental law, policy and regulation in Alberta. The ELC’s mission is to educate and champion for strong laws and rights so all Albertans can enjoy clean water, clean air and a healthy environment. Our vision is a society where laws secure an environment that sustains current and future generations.

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Photo Credit: Andrew S. Wright

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  • Laura
    Posted at 12:56h, 05 October Reply

    Great summary Jason and some important commentary.

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