MLAs must give public greater voice in energy hearings
Published in the Edmonton Journal, June 24, 2008
By Cindy Chiasson, Executive Director, Environmental Law Centre
June 24, 2008
Letters to the Editor
P.O. Box 2421
Edmonton, AB T5J 2S6
Re: Bill 46 not to blame for restrictive participation rights
The editorial on the current ERCB sour gas hearing in Tomahawk (“Sour gas drilling rules need review”, 20 June 2008) discussed concerns that local residents have about their limited ability to participate in the hearing, and places the blame on “the new, restrictive rules of Bill 46”. The statement about Bill 46 is incorrect. While the rules that limit participation in ERCB hearings to “directly and adversely affected” persons are definitely restrictive, they were not created by Bill 46; these rules have applied to energy hearings in Alberta since 1971. The only direct effect that Bill 46 had on sour gas or other energy hearings was to create the ERCB, as part of the split of the former Energy and Utilities Board into two separate bodies.
It’s easy and very common to blame the ERCB as the agency that applies the rules. While the ERCB has discretion in how it interprets and applies its rules, it does not have the ability to change the legislated requirements that limit public participation. These rules have been set out for nearly 40 years in the Energy Resources Conservation Act and can only be changed by our elected representatives in the Alberta legislature. Many Albertans have been unhappy with these rules of participation since their creation; it is the increased growth and pace of energy development in recent years that has increased the volume and exposure of this dissatisfaction.
However, delaying the Tomahawk hearing until the ERCB comes out with new setback regulations or protesting to the ERCB about “directly and adversely affected” status may only affect piecemeal change, if any change at all. The draft Land-use Framework, currently open for public comment, offers the possibility of changing how the public participates in all land-use decisions, including energy development. That is why is it so important that Albertans take the opportunity to express their concerns and views to the provincial government on the Land-use Framework. Another important tool available to citizens unhappy with the ERCB participation rules is the right to communicate directly with MLAs. The MLAs are the people in Alberta who have the power to change the rules of the game before the ERCB, and who have often escaped scrutiny in the public debate over ERCB process and public participation.