Alberta created its first environmentally focused government department in 1971 and it was this department that was responsible for developing pollution prevention legislation over the coming decades. Eventually, in 1992, the province combined numerous pieces of legislation including the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, among others, into the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act (EPEA), came into force, establishing one comprehensive package for environmental management.
The EPEA’s stated purpose includes supporting and promoting the protection, enhancement and wise use of the environment, balanced with human health, economic growth and prosperity. It also incorporates other legal and environmental principles, including the polluter pays principle. The EPEA employs a risk management approach to pollution prevention. For example, the environmental assessment process differs based on the degree of risk associated with each project. The full assessment process applies to higher risk projects that are listed in the regulations or to activities where “the potential environmental impacts of the proposed activity warrant further consideration under the environmental assessment process.”
The Activities Designation Regulation, a regulation under the EPEA, requires approvals for activities with the highest environmental risk, registrations for those with a lesser impact, and only requires notification of a project for those projects with minimal environmental impact.
The EPEA also includes general prohibitions. For example, there is a general prohibition against any person releasing a substance in excess of allowable amounts or at an amount that will cause a significant adverse effect.
Further, the EPEA enables the use of government issued orders (environmental protection orders and enforcement orders) that allow the government to direct individuals to clean up pollution or to take steps to prevent further pollution. For example, there are a number of sections in the Act that authorize an emergency order in the event that an unauthorized substance is released.
Alberta Environment and Parks, Alberta Energy and the Alberta Energy Regulator each play a role in enforcing the duties and goals outlined in the Act and in drafting regulation and policy to help clarify and put these duties into action. For example, Alberta Environment and Parks designs policies that regulate contaminated sites (or sites where a spill of hazardous material has occurred) while the Alberta Energy Regulator issues decisions on approvals for energy development in the province, and Alberta Energy develops and implements policy for resource management and development.
Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) also enforces a number of regulations that regulate hazardous waste and hazardous recyclables. For example, AEP is responsible for ensuring compliance under the Release Reporting Regulation which sets requirements for an owner or operator to fulfill, immediately after any spill involving hazardous materials occurs and the Waste Control Regulation which describes the safe management of hazardous waste including registration, storage and transportation.
The Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act is a more comprehensive act than some past versions, yet it is still limited by both its enforcement abilities (there are only so many people working for government departments and there are a lot of environmental issues arising every day) and a slow-moving bureaucratic process.
 Air Policy Sector, “Air Management in Alberta” (January 2009) Government of Alberta at 1 online: https://www.alberta.ca/provincial-air-quality-management.aspx.
 Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act, RSA 2000, e- 12, s 2.
 Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act, s 2.
 Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act, ss 39(c), 43 & 44(1).
 Activities Designation Regulation, Alta Reg 276/2003, ss 2, 3 & 4.
 Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act, ss 108 & 109.
 Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act, ss 113, 129, 140 & 150.
 Release Reporting Regulation, Alta Reg 117/1993.
 Waste Control Regulation, Alta Reg 192/1996.
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