Shrinking environmental monitoring budgets in Alberta

Get your head out of the Tarsands
Image by ItzaFineDay via Flickr

Edmonton – On the eve of a verdict in the Syncrude trial into the 2008 deaths of 1,606 ducks on one of its tailings ponds, Greenpeace released three graphs showing that the Alberta government has consistently cut the province’s environmental enforcement and monitoring budget, while consistently boosting public relations spending. The numbers could in part explain why the government was unaware of the incident and unaware of Syncrude’s lack of deterrents to protect birds.

Alberta’s spending on environmental compliance, enforcement, and monitoring has decreased by $7 million or 25 per cent since 2003 despite rapid tar sands expansion. Alberta now spends a combined total of just $20 million on compliance, enforcement, and monitoring. Meanwhile, the Premier’s Office alone spends more than $31 million per year. The government recently spent over $25 million dollars on a single tar sands PR and branding campaign, and has just announced another $200,000 PR push. And while ducks may not top the province’s priority list, it gave a $34 million subsidy to the horse racing industry in 2009.

“It’s no wonder that incidents like the 1,600 duck deaths happen in a province that’s slashing its enforcement and monitoring budgets year after year and allowing industry to police and monitor itself,” said Mike Hudema, Climate and Energy campaigner for Greenpeace Canada. “Syncrude lawyer Bob White was right when he said that the government is also responsible for this tragedy. Premier Stelmach’s government can’t claim innocence here. The numbers speak for themselves and the public deserves answers.”

While tar sands production was skyrocketing, the province was cutting the environmental and enforcement budget and at the same time increasing communications spending. Public relations used to be a small part of the budget at Alberta Environment. But when Ed Stelmach became Premier in 2007, the environment ministry’s communications budget doubled, increasing from $669,000 to $1.3 million in just one year.

“These graphs show very clearly how the province is more concerned about its environmental rhetoric than dealing with the mounting problems associated with a toxic tar sands industry,” said Hudema, who will be at the courthouse for tomorrow’s verdict. “Despite the province touting to the world how great an environmental steward it is, the reality is the Alberta government spent more money on a single tar sands PR campaign then the entire budget for environmental enforcement and monitoring in the province. It’s time this government starts putting its money where its mouth is.”

The graphs show a clear upward trajectory for communications and PR spending, and a clear downward spiral on monitoring, enforcement and compliance. The graphs were compiled using budget actuals from 2003-2008, forecast for 2009 and estimates for 2010.

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