On March 31, 2020 the Alberta government enacted Ministerial Orders suspending existing environmental reporting requirements due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Ministerial Orders signed by Environment Minister Jason Nixon states “All requirements to report information pursuant to provisions in approvals or registrations are suspended.”
Section 52.1 of the Public Health Act gives a minister with power to suspend and/or modify the application that they are responsible for under the Government Organization Act. The Minister of Environment and Parks issued the Ministerial Orders under section 52.1 to suspend the reporting requirements under the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act, the Water Act and the Public Lands Act. The suspension was made on the basis that the reporting obligations are not in the public interest during the COVID-19 public health emergency. The suspensions are in place until August 14, 2020 unless terminated earlier by the Minister or Lieutenant Governor in Council
The Ministerial Orders provide that for the specified period industry does not need to meet the reporting requirements. These exemptions however do not apply to drinking water and wastewater facilities.
The intent of the Ministerial Orders is to relieve industries from some of the administrative reporting functions required under the applicable legislative requirements. However, the concern is that since Alberta’s regulatory system largely depends on industry self-reporting the suspension is being criticized as effectively suspending environmental regulation in the Province of Alberta and removing any environmental oversight.
The change in reporting requirements does not apply to major accidents, spills or hazardous leaks which are still subject to the reporting obligations. Other concerns relate to cumulative effects of certain industries being overlooked and gaps in data collection making it difficult to prosecute companies for not meeting their regulatory requirements.
Shaun Fluker, a law professor at the University of Calgary stated: “The longer this gap persists, the more likely it is that certain standards that are in place to protect human health and the environment, any contraventions of those, are just going to go unaddressed.” At this time, it is unclear as to whether the reporting that would otherwise be required during the suspension period will ever by submitted to the regulatory bodies. It is notable that while the reporting requirements are being suspended during the COVID-19 crisis the Alberta Energy Regulator has not suspended or extended deadlines on new projects. The project permitting process is continuing to move forward.