Covid-19 has been hard economically, and Alberta’s Premier, Jason Kenney, has used economic recovery as a smokescreen to loosen environmental protections, threatening the climate progress achieved over the past few years and endangering some of the most beautiful natural places in Canada.

Here are five ways in which Kenney has used Covid-19 as a cover to undermine environmental protections:

1. Funding cuts to monitoring of oil sands

In a new deal between the Alberta and the federal government, funding cuts by at least 25% have been made to the environmental monitoring of the oilsands. Funding has been reduced to $44 million this year, from $60 million in 2018, which was cut to $58 million. 

Under these cuts, the water quality at Wood Buffalo National Park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, will no longer be assessed. However, administration costs have increased from $7 million to $10 million, which means this money will be spent before any field data is even collected.  

2. Ending restrictions in place since 1976 on open-pit coal mining across parts of the Rocky Mountains

In one of the biggest rollbacks in environmental protections, Premier Kenney ended protections in place since 1976 that restricted explorations and prevented open-pit coal mining across the Rocky Mountains and Foothills. 

According to the provincial government, protection measures were rescinded to “attract new investment” and “create new jobs” but these measures will threaten some of the most beautiful natural landmarks in Canada, threaten natural habitats for animals like grizzly bears, and infringe on the land rights of First Nations communities. 

3. Suspending environmental reporting requirements

In April, Alberta’s Environment Minister, Jason Nixon, signed an order suspending many environmental reporting requirements, using the Covid-19 health crisis as reasoning. This order was signed days after the Environmental Protection Agency in America passed a similar order temporarily waiving off environmental protection requirements due to the pandemic. 

The order suspended the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act, the Water Act and the Public Lands Act, and essentially creates an information lag for researchers to extract data for relevant studies. 

4. Suspending multiple environmental monitoring requirements for oilsands

The Alberta Energy Regulator suspended at least 19 environmental monitoring requirements for major oil sands producers such as Imperial Oil. This move came after the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers wrote a letter urging the termination of environmental regulations during the pandemic, saying that the economic freeze had hit the oil industry hard. 

Suspending regulations raises critical concerns as it erases data to assess how emissions are impacting the environment, birds and animal species and also public health. Essentially, without any data available, there is nothing to extrapolate and report. 

5. $1.5 billion investment in Keystone XL pipeline

In March, Kenney confirmed a multibillion dollar investment into the contentious Keystone XL pipeline, with $6 billion in guaranteed loans. This investment is a part of his Covid-19 economic recovery plan

However, environmental activists and oil industry critics have questioned this investment given the oil supply glut and the fact that American Presidential nominee, Joe Biden, has promised to scrap the project if elected to office in November, on top of the urgent need for Alberta to diversify its economy away from the oil and gas industry.

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