'Need to raise the bar:' Alberta names oilsands climate advisory panel

EDMONTON – One of Canada’s most prominent environmental activists has been named by the Alberta government to co-lead an advisory panel on how the oilsands can meet greenhouse gas reduction goals.

Tzeporah Berman — who has protested against new oilsands pipelines — will join well-known energy executive David Collyer and aboriginal leader Melody Lepine as part of the province’s Oilsands Advisory Group.

“There’s going to be creative tension on this group, no question,” said Alberta Environment Minister Shannon Phillips, who made the announcement Wednesday.

“But industry recognizes that and they were the one who began these conversations with these folks years ago.”

The group is to advise the government on how best to implement on the industry a 100-megatonne cap on emissions. That is likely to mean regulatory changes, said Phillips.

It is also to look at technological innovation and ways that money from a carbon tax can be spent to reduce the amount of carbon emitted per barrel.

“We clearly need to raise the bar on environmental performance, particularly on carbon,” said Collyer, a former top executive at Shell Canada and head of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

Pipelines are on the table as well.

“One of the issues the group is going to be looking at is the need for and role of pipelines, how that relates to emissions limits,” Collyer said.

“We have to recognize the importance of this industry to Albertans. There’s a prosperity dimension to this as well.”

The panel is also to look at effective ways to address regional environmental concerns beyond climate change — a particularly important issue for First Nations in the oilsands area.

“The mandate is to focus on climate change, but there are other environmental issues — cumulative effects, community concerns, the inclusion of indigenous knowledge,” said Lepine, director of government and industry relations for the Mikisew Cree.

“When we look at the issues around the oilsands, we take a more holistic view.”

It’s the presence of Berman, a non-Albertan who has called the oilsands “the single largest and most destructive project on Earth,” that has raised the most eyebrows. Naming her to an advisory group on the industry’s future has already drawn fire from opposition politicians.

“Appointing a co-chair to the (group) who is vocally opposed and has made a career off opposing our oil sands industry is deeply disappointing,” said Opposition Wildrose Leader Brian Jean.

Berman does have experience in bringing sides together, such as in Clayoquot Sound, a pristine area of old-growth forest in British Columbia.

Berman didn’t return calls Wednesday. But in 2015, she wrote in the Toronto Star:

“There is a long and difficult road in front of us of retraining, of building new clean energy infrastructure, reducing oil demand through efficiency, scaling up public transportation and electrifying transport.

“That will take time and we need to ensure that people are not thrown out of work and we do not destabilize capital markets. That requires serious transition planning and it’s not going to be easy or comfortable.”

Collyer said he’s worked with Berman before.

“My experience with her is that she’s willing to constructively work on these things,” he said.

“We’ve all been down the road of advocating our own interests. It’s become apparent that we need to find a way to come together and resolve some of these problems in the broader interest and that requires all of us putting aside some of our prior perspectives.”

— Follow Bob Weber on Twitter at @row1960