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Lobbyist appointed as Alberta's new top energy regulator

The Alberta government has appointed the founding president of the Canada's most powerful oil and gas group as well as an active energy lobbyist to head its new energy regulator.

Gerard Protti, a long-time senior executive for Encana from 1995 and 2009, served as the inaugural president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP).*

He is also registered as an active lobbyist for the Energy Policy Institute of Canada.

That lobby group, which disgraced senior Harper advisor Bruce Carson helped to set up (Carson served as vice chair), says on its website that it wants to make energy regulations more industry friendly: "Help design regulatory processes that aid, rather than impede, responsible energy development."

(Carson, the 66-year-old former aide to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, was the architect of Tories’ oil sands public relations strategy and will go to trial next summer on influence-peddling charges. He has a history of fraud convictions.)

The Redford government appointed Protti, who also has close ties to the Harper government, as industry advisor to the Alberta government on its Regulatory Enhancement Project.

That project is still designing a one-stop shop regulatory body for oil and gas that Protti now heads.

Mike Hudema of Greenpeace Canada was at a loss for words to describe the appointment.

"You'd think the Alberta government would want to gain credibility with an appointee that had a strong record of public service. But this move does nothing for the province's credibility. It's pure conflict of interest."

Added Hudema: "By handing the fox the keys to the hen house, the Redford government has made a mockery of their claims to being a tough regulator. No one outside of Alberta is going to take the founder of the oil industry's main lobby group seriously as an environmental regulator. It may be a cause for joy in corporate boardrooms, but it is our communities and our environment that will pay the price of this revolving door between government and industry."

Edmonton-based lawyer Keith Wilson and many other critics have described new legislation(Bill 2) creating Alberta’s new energy regulator as an unfettered disaster for citizens who live near energy projects in rural Alberta.

According to Wilson, Bill 2 effectively takes away the rights landowners now have to contest and oppose projects not in the community interest. But the new regulator "now gets complete unfettered discretion in deciding whether landowners get any notice or can have any right to a hearing or other participation in the process. There is nothing in Bill 2 that creates any rights for landowners."

Protti's appointment may create a political storm in the province.

When then-Premier Ralph Klein tried to appoint another energy insider, former Amoco executive Sherrold Moore, as head of the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board (now the Energy Resources Conservation Board) in 1998, public outrage forced the government to back down.

It finally appointed Neil McCrank, senior civil servant and lawyer, instead.

The appointment is not without precedent. B.C.'s oil and gas regulator, the Oil and Gas Commission, was actually set up by a former oil and gas lobbyist too.

Tyee contributing editor Andrew Nikiforuk is both an Alberta landowner and a reporter. Find his previous Tyee articles here.

*Spelling of name corrected on April 3 at 8:50 p.m.

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