Posted on March 21, 2013 (updated: March 21, 2013)

Lower Athabasca Regional Plan ineffective, insufficient

CALGARY — The draft Lower Athabasca Regional Plan is woefully inadequate and will not adequately protect the region against the cumulative effects of industrial development, Ecojustice said today after careful review of the proposed plan.

“The plan’s management framework is riddled with significant gaps and it gives far too much discretion to government decision-makers,” said Barry Robinson, Ecojustice staff lawyer. “Until those gaps are addressed and a better regulatory system is installed, the Alberta government shouldn’t approve any further oilsands developments in the area.”

The draft’s air quality framework, for instance, fails to include a management plan for C02 and other greenhouse gas emissions, even though they are a major by-product of oilsands operations (see letter below).

Biological diversity, land disturbances, tailings management and surface water quantity frameworks have yet to be developed, rendering the draft plan incomplete.

The draft itself can be viewed as too little, too late since much of the region is already allocated to oilsands and timber development. This problem will compound if further oilsands developments are approved before a complete management framework is in place, Robinson added.

Conservation areas outlined in the draft also fail to cover the current ranges and habitat areas critical to the survival and restoration of Alberta’s threatened boreal caribou herds. Moreover, the draft’s language raises serious questions about what will happen when economic development and species protection are at odds.

“The draft signals that the Alberta government has a grave misunderstanding of what species at risk need to survive,” Robinson said. “Areas that have high economic development value are often also important habitat for species at risk. They are not mutually exclusive.”

Ecojustice’s lawsuit over caribou protection will be heard in federal court June 22-23 in Edmonton.

Finally, the draft’s toothless regulations leave far too much to the discretion of government decision-makers.

“The draft regulations give discretion to the designated Minister to determine if environmental limits have been exceeded. These should be scientific, not political, decisions,” Robinson said. “Until these concerns are addressed, the only responsible thing to do is halt further industrial development in the region.”

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