Alberta First Nations chiefs back federal overhaul of energy project approval laws
Alberta's First Nations are rallying behind the Liberal government as it undertakes changes to the way energy projects are approved.
Chiefs of the province's 45 First Nations voted unanimously last week to support Bill C-69 at a meeting of the Alberta Assembly of Treaty Chiefs in Edmonton, Marlene Poitras, the regional chief for Alberta First Nations, said Monday.
The controversial legislation would overhaul the way energy projects are given the go-ahead.
The Alberta chiefs' Nov. 15 vote followed an October endorsement of Bill C-69 from four First Nations in the Fort McMurray region.
Poitras said Alberta First Nations support the legislation because it gives Indigenous communities a greater say when it comes to development.
"It's having First Nations at the table," Poitras said. "First Nations have to be involved in those discussions."
Bill C-69, now before the Senate, updates federal environmental review legislation.
The federal government says the legislation streamlines a patchwork of regulatory bodies, offers broader impact assessments that consider health and socio-economic factors, and prioritizes early engagement with Indigenous people.
Some in the industry, and Alberta's NDP government, have raised concerns about the legislation.
First Nations: Oversight needed for in-situ projects
At a news conference Monday to discuss her government's actions to address the steep price discounts that Alberta's oil faces, Premier Rachel Notley reiterated concerns that the bill introduces too much red tape.
"As we move forward we need to make sure we don't make it even more difficult," Notley told reporters. "And that of course is the point our government has been making with respect to Bill C-69."
The Alberta government has also called for the bill to clarify the length of time reviews should take and exempt in-situ oilsands projects from federal assessments. In-situ oilsands projects use high-pressure steam or chemical solvents to release bitumen from underground and pipe it to the surface.
But Alberta's First Nations say they would like to see Bill C-69 go further.
The Mikisew Cree First Nation, located north of Fort McMurray, want legislation that mandates in-situ oilsands projects undergo federal reviews.
In-situ projects tend to have a reputation for being greener when compared to open-pit oilsands mines, "because you don't see a large disturbance of land," Mikisew Cree Chief Archie Waquan told CBC News.
But Waquan said Indigenous communities that surround the oilsands have questions about the impact of in-situ projects that inject steam or chemicals into the ground to extract bitumen.
In an emailed statement, Alberta Environment Minister Shannon Phillips said Indigenous people have a voice when it comes to development that affects them and their treaty rights.
"However, we feel that in-situ oil sands projects already face a rigorous environmental review process in Alberta — one that doesn't need to be duplicated by the federal government," Phillips said.
"It's clear that some First Nations and Métis communities have concerns, and we'll continue to engage with them on these concerns."