MacLean: Alberta is an environmental leader, not an embarrassing cousin

The following Alberta Enterprise Group editorial appeared in the Calgary Herald on September 18, 2015.

Many Albertans were rightfully insulted when Premier Rachel Notley described Alberta to a Global TV news reporter as the “embarrassing cousin that no one wants to talk about.”

The backlash was so strong and immediate, that the premier later made a point of speaking with media and explaining that her comments weren’t about Alberta or Albertans generally, but rather, they were about Alberta’s poor environmental performance.

One of her top priorities, apparently, is to set the stage for Albertans to be “genuinely proud” of Alberta’s environmental record. Hold on for just a second. Who’s to say Albertans aren’t already proud of our province’s environmental performance? And if they aren’t already, who’s to say they shouldn’t be?

Because when you look at Alberta’s environmental record and the policies that govern industry, we stack up favourably against jurisdictions around the world. An exhaustive study conducted by WorleyParsons in conjunction with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers compared Alberta’s (and by extension, Canada’s) environmental policies, laws and regulatory systems with those in nine other oil-producing jurisdictions.

The study’s methodology is thorough and transparent, down to the system used to choose countries to compare. We urge everyone to take a look at it here.

Countries selected for the comparison included Norway, United States, Brazil, United Kingdom and Oman.

The study compared the environmental laws and government processes by asking three key questions: How comprehensive are the environmental laws? How easily can the public get information, and which country has rules to ensure compliance?

In terms of comprehensiveness, Alberta had the second most stringent environmental laws in the group, next to Australia. Canadian requirements for ongoing environmental reporting, closure plans, reclamation and remediation and costs associated with regulatory application put Canada way further ahead than Norway on the “comprehensive” scale.

The study found no other jurisdiction matched Canada on the “compliance” scale — which measured the existence of whistleblower protection laws, penalties for non-compliance and regulatory independence to enforce environmental rules. Australia was a distant second.

Alberta also ranked top of class when measuring the public’s ability to access information on environmental performance of the industry and provide input into regulatory processes.

Under the previous government, Alberta became the first jurisdiction in North America to legislate greenhouse gas emissions reductions. Alberta taxes carbon from large emitters — set to hit $20 a tonne next year — with proceeds invested in new green technologies. Over five years, $210 million has been invested in projects like a bio-refinery in Hairy Hill and a 300-megawatt wind farm in southern Alberta.

Nobody else in Canada is doing it like we do.

The Alberta government invested $745 million in Shell’s flagship Quest carbon capture and storage project, one of the only projects like it in the world. Emissions reductions, according to proponents, will be equivalent to taking 175,000 cars off the road annually.

And it’s not just about oil and gas. Albertans are doing great environmental work in agriculture, forestry, wildlife conservation and transportation, to name a few. Take a look at the recipients of the annual Emerald Awards, an Alberta foundation that has been recognizing “outstanding environmental achievements” across Alberta each year since 1992. It’s a real eye-opener.

Albertans aren’t environmental laggards, we’re leaders.

Albertans appreciate a premier who has the guts to flag a problem when she sees one and do something about it. It’s her job to occasionally tell us things we may not want to hear.

But describing our province as the “embarrassing cousins” of Confederation is an insult to the thousands of women and men — in both the private and public sectors — who have dedicated their lives to Alberta-made environmental solutions.

David MacLean is vice-president of Alberta Enterprise Group, a member-based, non-profit business advocacy organization. Its members employ more than 150,000 Canadians in all sectors of the economy. www.albertaenterprise.ca