New bill cuts energy efficiency agency, ends cabinet approval of oilsands projects

The shuttering of Energy Efficiency Alberta and an end to cabinet approval for oilsands projects are proposed in an omnibus bill introduced by the government Thursday. 

Bill 22 aims to cut so-called red tape in government

Bill 22 was introduced on Thursday by Grant Hunter, the associate minister for red tape reduction. (CBC )

The shuttering of Energy Efficiency Alberta and an end to cabinet approval for oilsands projects are proposed in an omnibus bill introduced by the government Thursday. 

The 14 changes in Bill 22 are aimed at reducing what the government calls "red tape" in six ministries. 

The Red Tape Reduction Implementation Act, 2020, eliminates the need for cabinet to sign off on oilsands projects approved by the Alberta Energy Regulator. 

Officials say eliminating that extra step could speed up the process by as much as 10 months. 

It isn't clear what would happen if a First Nations opposed an AER approval, as in the case of Prosper Petroleum's Rigel project.

Earlier this year, the Alberta Court of Appeal quashed the approval after the Fort McKay First Nation successfully argued that its plan to mitigate environmental effects in the Moose Lake area wasn't taken into account by the regulator. 

A spokesperson for Energy Minister Sonya Savage said project proponents have to receive approval by the government's Aboriginal Consultation Office before getting the nod from the AER.

The bill also dissolves Energy Efficiency Alberta, which was set up in 2017 under the previous NDP government. EEA was intended to help Albertans make their homes and businesses more energy efficient. 

Dissolution of the agency returns Alberta to its previous status as the only Canadian province without that kind of agency. 

Public land sales 

Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon said Energy Efficiency Alberta duplicated work done by Emissions Reduction Alberta. 

While ERA focuses on larger-scale emission reductions initiatives for industry, Nixon said its mandate will be expanded to include programs previously administered by Energy Efficiency Alberta. 

If Bill 22 is passed, Energy Efficiency Alberta will wind down by September. Nixon said about two-thirds of the current staff will move to Emissions Reduction Alberta. 

Nixon says Alberta, unlike other provinces, creates 65 per cent of its emissions from large emitters so it makes sense to focus on industry. 

Corey Diamond, executive director of Efficiency Canada, said energy efficiency initiatives can reduce Canada's greenhouse gases by up to 40 per cent.

"It's also a massive job creator," he said. "More jobs are created in the energy efficiency sector right now than any other part of the energy sector in North America." 

Other initiative in the bill would open up grazing leases in provincial parks, grazing permits in forest reserves and the sales of public lands to all Canadians, not just residents of Alberta.

Nixon said this fulfils a promise by Premier Jason Kenney to reduce interprovincial trade barriers. 

The proposal is not connected to the government's plan to seek non-profits or community operators for 164 provincial parks and recreation areas, he said.

The Opposition NDP said Nixon's ministry will turn parks into Crown land if government can't find new operators, allowing the properties to be sold.

Edmonton-Gold Bar MLA Marlin Schmidt, the NDP critic for environment and parks, is concerned the government is changing the rules to allow outside investors to snap up public lands and leases.

"Call me old-fashioned, but Alberta's public lands belong to the public of Alberta and not to Bay Street investors," Schmidt said. 

"These are outside investors seeking to profit off Alberta's lands and there's no guarantee that the Alberta public will benefit." 

Edmonton-Decore MLA Chris Nielsen, the NDP critic for red tape reduction, said Bill 22 is 175 pages long. Unlike the media, he said the NDP caucus was not given a technical briefing on the bill prior to it being tabled in the legislature Thursday afternoon. 

With files from Janet French