Sunday, November 09, 2008

Alberta's Environment Minister Renner Visits Fort Chipewyan

UPDATE: FORT McMURRAY TODAY is reporting on November 12th that as a result of his trip to Ft Chip, Minister Renner is promising air and water studies in the area to relieve concerns about contamination.

Wow! Here is a step in the right direction. Alberta's Minister of the Environment is going up to Fort Chipewyan on Monday to listen to health concerns of the community related to oil sands development.

It is important that the Minister of the Environment engage in health issues relating from environmental issues, policy and practices. Clean water, air and land is an environmental responsibility but also a health issue for humans and the biota as a whole.

I was at the Keepers of the Water conference in Ft Chip earlier this fall as part of my work with the Canadian Boreal Initiative on biodiversity offsets for oil sands projects. I spent four days in Ft Chip and met a lot of great people and had time to talk to many of them extensively.

I learned more about the issues of health and environment linkages at the conference meetings and from those locals who picked me up as I hitch hiked from place to place. I became acutely aware of the clean water issues and concerns in the community. I saw first hand the now famous two-mouthed fish caught in the Athabasca river near the community.

Many years ago the Athabasca river was a sewage dump for the pulp mills along its shores. When ALPAC was approved in the late 80's it was the largest single line pulp mill on the planet. The water quality and related health issues became front and centre as a public policy concern. The net result was the environmental conditions on the ALPAC approval, suggested by ALPAC itself, BTW, actually enhanced the overall water quality of the Athabasca river. This is because they and all the other mills on the river also changed their corporate cultures and their ecological approaches to doing business in a more sustainable way. Full disclosure - I was advising ALPAC on issues management concerns over the mill approval process at the time

Environment and health are integrated and related concerns and the folks at Ft Chip are acutely aware of this reality. Nice to see someone taking the political lead on this public policy issue and not just shuffling it off to a report process.

Good for Rob Renner! I am looking forward to hearing what the Minister picks up and what resonates with him from this visit.