Three environmental groups have walked away in frustration from an advisory body on Alberta's booming oilsands, saying it's not effective and the government is not paying any attention.
The Cumulative Environmental Management Association (CEMA) was set up by the provincial government in 2000 with members from First Nations groups, industry and environmental representatives. Its mandate was to balance industrial growth with the need to protect the ecosystem in northeast Alberta.
But three of the members — the Pembina Institute, Toxics Watch Society of Alberta and the Fort McMurray Environmental Society — announced on the weekend they had decided to quit the body.
"It's just not appropriate to sit in a room and talk for eight years; meanwhile oilsands development is approved on the landscape," Simon Dyer, a senior policy analyst with the Pembina Institute, told CBC News Tuesday.
"And we could no longer legitimately support a process that was being used to deflect attention from the government's failure to protect the environment."
Ignoring recommendations: Pembina
Dyer says so far the panel has failed in its attempt to come up with draft regulations to protect the air, water and forests of northeastern Alberta.
And what recommendations have come from the panel have been ignored by the government, he said.
In June, CEMA called on the province to protect up to 40 per cent of the land in the oilsands region around Fort McMurray from development to ensure sufficient wildlife habitat is preserved.
Earlier in the year, it recommended the government freeze oilsands leases until 2011, so the impact of current development can be properly assessed.
Neither recommendation has been adopted by the province.
The government rejects suggestions it is ignoring CEMA or the environment in its oilsands development plans.
Kim Capstick, a spokesperson for Alberta Environment said the government is currently reviewing what role CEMA should play in the future.
"Certainly these latest developments will be part of that discussion, and then what the next steps will be are very much dependent on what that decision is."
The government has already assumed many of the responsibilities for protecting the environment and habitat in the oilsands areas from CEMA, she said.
This is not the first time members of CEMA have left in frustration.
Last year, the Athabasca Chipewyan and the Mikisew Cree both quit the group, accusing it of being too pro-development.