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Pollution Controls Will Decline as Alberta Shutters Monitoring Office, Ex-Official Warns

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The former chief monitoring officer of Alberta’s Environmental Monitoring and Science Division (EMSD) is raising the alarm about the province’s decision last week to shutter the office and fold it into a new administrative structure, at the same curtailing its stand-alone climate change office, warning that the province’s monitoring of fossil-driven industrial pollution will continue to decline as a result.

“In my experience, it’ll result in significant disruption of programs. Possibly more cuts in budgets. Lack of focus. Fractured scientific leadership. That sort of thing,” Bill Donahue told [1] CBC.

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“If you don’t have adequate or appropriate monitoring, you won’t ever be able to tell whether your decisions are effective, whether policies are achieving their goals.”

Now-retired University of Alberta limnologist David Schindler led the earlier review that prompted Alberta to set up an independent monitoring agency in 2014. “Progressive Conservative governments constantly reassured the public that there was no problem with pollution,” CBC recalls. But when Schindler and colleagues “conducted their own independent research, they found that government monitoring had been ineffective and politically influenced.”

“The problem in the past has been that the political thumb has been on the science, ensuring that there was never adequate science done,” he said this week. And in the new structure Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party is proposing, “anything that could possibly be wrong in the oilsands is now subject to political censorship, so that the public at large will not know whether what they’re hearing is straight propaganda or the truth.”

While Alberta has spent years trying to brand itself as a source of the world’s “cleanest, most ethical heavy oil,” CBC notes, Kenney is more interested in setting up a “war room” and mounting a politically-charged investigation to target what he sees as the fossil industry’s adversaries, real and imagined.

“I guess that tells me where the priority of monitoring and science is,” Donahue said. “If you put more money into attacking environmentalists and, you know, chasing these conspiracy theories and probably disinforming and misinforming the public than you do putting it into programs that reveal whether or not there are actually significant problems, that needs to be addressed or mitigated.”

In a statement to CBC, Alberta Environment said the new division “will allow for increased collaboration and capacity among scientists working on fish and wildlife, environmental monitoring and science, flood forecasting, cumulative effects modelling, and other areas.”