On October 17, Alberta Minister of Environment and Sustainable
Resource Development Diana McQueen announced that the government of
that province will be setting up a new environmental monitoring
agency, with the aim of establishing the most comprehensive program
of its kind in Canada. The agency, which has been tentatively named
the "Alberta Environmental Monitoring Agency," will
monitor long-term environmental impacts on land, air, water and
biodiversity. It will initially focus on the oil sands regions, but
it is expected to monitor the whole province within the next couple
of years. The establishment of this agency is part of a more
integrated and coordinated approach to natural resources management
in Alberta and will be focusing on research, science and data
collection. The government plans to have the agency up and running
within the next six months.
The agency is expected to cost $4-6 million for its first two
years but it is yet to be decided whether, and to what extent, it
will be funded by industry levies, environmental taxes or general
government revenues. The agency will be overseen by a management
board headed by Howard Tennant, a former president and
vice-chancellor of the University of Lethbridge. Dr. Tennant
supports funding by both industry and the public. So far, the
government has set aside $3 million for the first three years of
Criticisms directed at the initiative by environmental groups
have focused on whether or not the agency will be truly
independent, as it will function as an extension of the provincial
government, reporting to the environment minister. Questions have
been raised as to whether reports and data that are made public
will be reliable and unedited. Dr. Tennant has, however, promised
that the published information will be transparent and that it will
not be reviewed by politicians before it is released to the
The agency is being set up as a response to recommendations made
in a report from the Alberta Environmental Monitoring Working Group
that was published June 2012. That report concluded that a
monitoring system was needed in order to improve the scientific
understanding of environmental effects in Alberta and to assist
members of government, investors and industry in their
The Alberta Government is taking steps towards a more uniform
and comprehensive approach to environmental monitoring by
establishing a single agency to monitor impacts on the environment
as a whole. This allows for cumulative impacts to be taken into
account, as these can improve the understanding and management of
environmental impacts from a sustainable and long-term perspective.
As the agency is to be at arm's length to the government, it
will have a degree of independence, which is likely to strengthen
its transparency and credibility.
It will however take some time before the agency is fully set up
to initiate any monitoring activities. Also, the system's
success will be dependent on sufficient funding. For this reason,
it will be crucial for the government to decide upon and adopt a
clear and coherent plan for the agency's long-term
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