The Environmental Appeals Board of Alberta is an independent administrative agency with legislative authority to hear appeals from decisions made under the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act, the Water Act, the Emissions Management and Climate Resilience Act, which are administered by Alberta Environment and Protected Areas. It also hears appeals from decisions made under the Government Organization Act, Schedule 5, section 6, regarding enforcement orders relating to Restricted Development Areas.
Generally, the Board has the power to make recommendations to the Minister of Environment and Protected Areas on matters brought before it, and the Minister makes the final decision. On matters relating to requests for confidentiality, administrative penalties, preliminary motions, and cost applications, the Board makes the final decision.
The Board will encourage mediation meetings where possible and provide clear, consistent and timely adjudication when necessary.
The Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act (EPEA) was proclaimed in September 1993, after extensive consultation with industry, community and environment groups, and the general public. The public consultation process made it clear that both industry and the public had concerns about how they would be affected by EPEA. Regulated industries were concerned they would be treated unfairly by government regulators and be required to meet unreasonably stringent requirements, which would add to the cost of doing business. Individuals and groups concerned about the environment, such as fish and game associations, recreational groups and conservation organizations, were also concerned. They told the review panels they wanted an independent appeal process as a way to have a say in the approval of projects that might degrade the environment. The Board was created to respond to these concerns.
In 1995, the scope of the Board's mandate was expanded with the implementation of the Government Organization Act, Schedule 5, Section 6, under which the Board can hear appeals of enforcement orders relating to Restricted Development Areas.
The Board's purview was further expanded in January 1999, with the coming into force of the Water Act, which contains a mechanism for appealing water related approvals, preliminary certificates, licences, diversion of water, and enforcement matters to the Board. It is evident that the quantity, use, and management of water in Alberta are becoming more contentious issues which are influenced by a variety of factors. However, decisions on appropriate usage of Alberta's water supply are within the realm of human influence and, as such, there are differing opinions on what constitutes appropriate use and management of Alberta's water supply. As a result, the number of water related appeals is an increasingly large aspect of the Board's business, a challenge which the Board has met with the same standard of fairness and efficiency with which it has been processing EPEA appeals since 1993.
In April 2007, the Board's powers were further expanded in response to climate change issues under the Climate Change and Emissions Management Act, now the Emissions Management and Climate Resilience Act (EMCRA). The Board may now hear appeals under section 42 of the EMCRA regarding compliance orders and administrative penalties. It is expected that as this area of the law continues to develop, the Board will play an important role in ensuring that the approach to environmental stewardship taken under EPEA and the Water Act is extended to climate issues.
The provisions relating to the Board are found in Part 4 of EPEA, Schedule 5 of the Government Organization Act, Part 9 of the Water Act, and Section 42 of EMCRA. The main regulation to provide specifics on the Board is the Environmental Appeal Board Regulation. The Board has statutory authority to hear appeals of administrative decisions made about matters regulated by EPEA, the Government Organization Act, the Water Act, and the Emissions Management and Climate Resilience Act.
In carrying out its functions, the Board has all the powers of a commissioner under the Public Inquiries Act, including the ability to retain experts to assist with matters before the Board and to compel persons or evidence to be brought before the Board. Although it is not subject to the provisions of the Administrative Procedures Act, the Board has an obligation to operate in accordance with the principles of natural justice. Although the Courts retain the power to review Board decisions to make sure they conform the legislation, they cannot change the Board's findings within the legislation.
The Environmental Appeals Board is a quasi-judicial body. The Board is a judicial body that makes judgments about the rights and responsibilities and in some cases, liabilities of the parties that appear before it. It recognizes that the Board, like a Court, must decide appeals by hearing and weighing facts and arguments, and by applying those facts to the legislation, which it may have to interpret. It is a quasi-judicial body because it is different from a court; the legislature has specifically given responsibility for environmental appeals to a tribunal consisting of members with expertise in that field.