The compliance team within Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) is responsible for responding to known or potential environmental emergencies or complaints from the public.
“We deal with everything from the release of toxic substances into a waterbody to the unauthorized use of public lands in the province,” says Owen Butz, AEP Compliance Manager.
The compliance team tracks every complaint or report received and its related response. This action not only tracks trends over time but also ensures that compliance work is open and accessible.
All the compliance activities conducted over the last year by AEP are listed in the publicly-released Compliance Assurance Annual Report, providing documented statistics that show how each reported incident is acted upon.
“We take every report, complaint and call very seriously – we’re all stewards of the environment,” adds Owen.
The Compliance Assurance Annual Report includes the work of the department’s Support and Emergency Response Team (ASERT). This team – as the name implies – is responsible for responding to environmental emergencies. A key part of that work is to ensure preparedness and coordination of response with other agencies, partners, and provincial or federal governments.
The ASERT team continually seeks out new technologies or best practices to improve Alberta’s emergency preparedness and response. For example, last year they used drone flights to document the appearance of an aquatic invasive species in Alberta. Drones have also been used to assess the extent of environmental contamination in the event of a collision, and to identify spills and their extent.
“Drones have made safe and affordable to access difficult-to-access or unsafe locations. In the past, it would have been very costly to get aerial image or video because you would need a plane or a helicopter,” expressed Owen.
Compliance isn’t just about responding to emergencies, though – a significant part of the compliance team’s work involves education and prevention to promote compliance long-term. If education and prevention efforts aren’t enough, the team is equipped with a diverse enforcement toolkit to track and reverse non-compliance, and if required, punish offenders.
“We want to be as proactive as possible and use education to increase awareness and compliance,” says Owen. “Regulatory requirements are in place to protect our environment – and Albertans. Most people want to do the right thing. However, we do have tools in place to ensure enforcement and we will use them if necessary.”
Enforcement measures include the use of creative sentencing in the court process, such as taking the funds from paid fines and diverting them to environmental improvement projects.
For example, the Edmonton Native Plant Society received creative sentencing funds to re-establish natural vegetation in two former farmers’ fields that are part of the Wagner Natural Area near Spruce Grove.
Creative funds were also diverted to the Telus World of Science following an air pollution incident in Hinton. The funds are being used to increase air quality awareness and knowledge among Alberta students, teachers and the public. The funds will create a classroom-teaching unit on air quality, a hands-on monitoring tool to allow students to take real time air quality measurements. More examples of creative sentencing projects are listed in the annual report.
To learn more about environmental response and preparedness, while ensuring the accomplishments of Alberta’s compliance team are accessible to everyone, visit: Compliance Assurance Annual Report.
Quick stats about the 2020 Compliance Assurance Annual Report
From April 2019 to March 2020, Alberta Environment and Parks:
- Received almost 10,000 environmental emergencies or complaint calls – every complaint and report is followed-up
- Completed more than 2,000 inspections
- Sent 130 warning letters
- Issued 36 orders to either prevent and/or correct damages, compel parties to prevent environmental harm, properly manage water or vacate public land.
- Issued 16 administrative penalties
- Completed nearly 200 surface material lease royalty audits
- Charged one company, seven individuals and three municipalities for offences under legislation administered by the department.
- Concluded four prosecutions