Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
August 22, 2005
Clean up Alberta Environment
So far, both the chief executive officer of CN Rail and the premier of Alberta have apologized for their negligence before and after the Aug. 3 oil spill from a CN train into Lake Wabamun. While we should accept the apologies, we need to go further and demand that steps be taken to avoid similar future catastrophes and to ensure justice will be done expeditiously if charges are laid in connection with this event.
Above all, we ought to expect a better attitude from both industry and the federal and provincial governments in the future. While charges may be laid against CN Rail, the lackadaisical approach of the Alberta government in the first few days after the spill also calls for some form of redress. The government's role should be to protect the public interest. But it clearly had little inclination to get involved, with Alberta Environment at first daily repeating bland reassurances that it was monitoring the situation.
A week after the fact, Premier Ralph Klein finally admitted the government had no plan to handle a disaster of this nature and that it should, in the future, arm itself with the equipment necessary to handle future oil spills.
The problem goes further than this, however. Alberta Environment was thoroughly gutted in the province's spending cutbacks 10 years ago - perhaps more than any other department - and has never been restored to anything remotely resembling its former self. The government has thankfully eliminated the province's financial indebtedness, but it pays little attention to the environmental debt we are leaving for future generations.
The federal government, meanwhile, has deregulated the rail industry - a move which has created economic benefits for the railways, but also may be behind an increasing number of derailments.
CN Rail, according to witnesses, was far more anxious to restore its revenue-producing railway tracks to service than it was to clean up the horrific mess it made of Lake Wabamun. The company also was extremely slow to release the fact that the spill included toxic utility pole oil, leaving those responsible enough to clean up the mess unaware of the dangers they faced.
The Church's teaching in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church is relevant to this situation: "An economy respectful of the environment will not have the maximization of profits as its only objective, because environmental protection cannot be assured solely on the basis of financial calculations of costs and benefits. The environment is one of those goods that cannot be adequately safeguarded or promoted by market forces" (n. 470).
In Alberta, we should know this. The petroleum industry has been teaching us for decades, in various ways, that, left unregulated, it will wreak havoc with mother nature and worker safety in the interest of increased profits.
Yet the government is painfully slow in providing the regulation and enforcement needed to protect the public interest. It is as though the government believes the oil companies would leave Alberta's oil and gas in the ground if the government took reasonable steps to look after the people of this province.
The real Alberta Advantage is that we have enormous natural resources, resources which belong to the people. The Alberta Advantage should not mean that we give away those resources at fire sale prices with little or no policing of how they are exploited. The Alberta government has the right and responsibility to ensure that the common good will be protected before it allows a single drop of oil out of the ground.
Likewise with the transportation of those resources to their destinations. The federal government has the responsibility to ensure the highest standards of rail line safety. We are now reaping the consequences of a corporate grab for the highest level of profit and government failures to conscientiously stand up for the public interest.
- Glen Argan
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.