On October 17, 2012, the Government of Alberta announced the
establishment of a new arm's-length environmental monitoring
agency, the Alberta Environmental Management Agency
("AEMA"). The creation of the AEMA was a key
recommendation of the Environmental Monitoring Working Group
("EMWG"), which released its report on environmental
monitoring, evaluation and reporting in June of this year. The EMWG
reviewed and built on the report of the Alberta Environmental
Monitoring Panel by addressing structural and governance
alternatives and funding schemes in consultation with various
stakeholders, including industry, aboriginal groups, scientists,
academics and experts.
The AEMA will be the first of its kind in Canada and will employ
a science-based approach. The AEMA will initially focus on what
should be monitored, how it is monitored and where monitoring
In terms of what is proposed to be monitored, the AEMA will
undertake a coordinated approach to monitoring land, air, water and
biodiversity. The AEMA will develop a monitoring regime
incorporating traditional environmental knowledge to observe
changes in the environment and will then provide open access to the
data and information that is collected. Monitoring will occur in
those places identified to require it, which will be determined
through the AEMA's integration with regional planning under
Alberta's Land-use Framework and the future single regulator of
oil, gas, oil sands and coal activities that has been developed
through the Regulatory Enhancement Project, the Alberta Energy
Regulator. This regulator is expected to be in place by June of
Implementation of the AEMA will be overseen by the Environmental
Monitoring Management Board. The six members of this Board have
been appointed and represent both the science and technology and
management sectors. The Board will initially focus on how the AEMA
will operate, including development of bylaws and governance, an
initial three-year business plan, annual budget and evaluation of
alternatives for long-term funding. The Board will establish
scientific criteria and a monitoring strategy while ensuring
engagement of appropriate interested parties.
The mechanism and amount of funding for the AEMA has yet to be
determined. The EMWG recommended that funding be provided through a
combination of industry, either voluntarily or through taxes and
levies on environmentally impactful activities and products, and
The initial focus for the AEMA will be on the Lower Athabasca
region where much of Alberta's oil sands activity is located.
Following its work in this region, the AEMA will expand its
activities throughout Alberta.
Currently, environmental monitoring in the oil sands region is
performed under the Joint Canada-Alberta Implementation Plan for
Oil Sands Monitoring, a joint program of federal and Alberta
government departments including Environment Canada and Alberta
Environment and Water. Thus far, the Plan has expanded monitoring
sites for water, air and land in the oil sands region. Upon expiry
of this joint program in 2015, the AEMA will assume sole
responsibility for oil sands area environmental monitoring.
The AEMA is unique in Canada and its implementation and
operation will likely present challenges for both regulators and
industry. Technical monitoring requirements will likely impact
operations, particularly in the sensitive oil sands region, which
may be significantly affected. There is no interim plan for
projects currently under development that may require monitoring
once the AEMA is in place. Further, the integration of the
AEMA's activities into a complex framework of land use
regulation and planning may pose additional regulatory challenges,
as the Alberta Land-Use Framework has not itself been fully
implemented. We will continue to monitor the AEMA and environmental
monitoring in Alberta and report on significant developments.
Directors and their corporations may be at a loss to understand what they must do to minimize their risk of environmental liability in light of the recent Ontario Ministry of Environment order and settlement agreement concerning Northstar Canada.
In the aftermath of the Northstar case, it is more important than ever for directors and officers to manage environmental issues proactively and implement policies to help minimize their risk exposure.