Alberta Environment Minister Shannon Phillips says the province is on track to have the worst air quality in Canada, and vows the government will put measures in place to reduce emissions from industry and vehicles.

"The time to act is long overdue," Phillips said.

"We have a responsibility to do everything we can to protect the health of Albertans."

Phillips made the remarks after seeing the results of the Canadian Ambient Air Quality Standards report, which show the Red Deer region has exceeded national standards. Four other regions — Lower Athabasca, Upper Athabasca, North Saskatchewan and South Saskatchewan — are close to exceeding national standards.  

Phillips said there is no immediate health risk for people living in central Alberta. 

"These results are concerning," Phillips said in a news release. "We can't keep going down the same path and expecting a different result. Our government has a responsibility to protect the health of Albertans by ensuring air pollution from all sources is addressed."

The province will initiate an "action plan" to deal with poor air quality in the Red Deer area, a move she said is required under the Canadian Ambient Air Quality Standards.

The government said a scientific study looking into the cause of the air pollutants is currently underway, and people living in the Red Deer area, industry stakeholders and the provincial energy regulator will be consulted. That plan is expected to be complete by the end of September and will take Red Deer's geography and air patterns into consideration.   

As part of the plan, Phillips said the government will:

  • Review technology that could be used to reduce emissions.
  • Review whether polluters in Alberta are meeting national standards.
  • Look at other ways to reduce emissions, for example, ways to curb vehicle emissions.

The Pembina Institute, non-profit think tank focused on clean energy, was quick to follow up with its own statement about the air quality results, saying the report shows the need for a provincewide pollution reduction strategy.

"This new report adds to the mounting evidence that Alberta needs to reduce air pollution across the province. Measures that will produce more rapid results are also needed in the numerous regional hot spots identified by the report," said Chris Severson-Baker, Alberta's regional director at the Pembina Institute.

"The report shows that, unless emissions are cut, most of the province risks exceeding the Canadian Ambient Air Quality Standards for fine particulate matter. This places an unacceptable burden on people's health and on the environment," he said.

The Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment has also weighed in on the report, saying it is "dismayed, but not surprised" by the findings. 

"This calls into question the pervasive belief that the clear blue skies of Alberta foster clean air, safe from the pollutants better known from smoggier climes," said Dr. Joe Vipond, an emergency room doctor and member of the association.

Phillips blamed the previous Tory government for contributing to the rising pollution levels, saying the PCs resisted meaningful action on climate change.

Canadian Ambient Air Quality Standards are national standards for particulate matter and ozone exposure. This is the first year of annual reporting by all provinces and territories.

The Alberta government is now working on a climate change policy to take to the United Nations Climate Change conference in Paris this fall.