Controversial environmentalist among five released from Alberta oilsands panel

EDMONTON — Controversial environmentalist Tzeporah Berman is out as a member of a government-appointed committee advising Alberta on how to develop the oilsands.

Berman and four other members of Alberta’s Oil Sands Advisory Group were let go after the 18-member panel wrapped up the first two phases of its consultations.

Environment Minister Shannon Phillips says Berman and the others contributed critical expertise in the early stages, but the panel’s focus is now narrowing.

“The first two tasks were really quite outward-facing tasks — the conversation with other Canadians, our international reputation on taking climate action,” Phillips said Friday in Calgary.

“She and a couple other voices that were there for an external perspective, their work is now finished, or coming to be finished.”

The panel was struck almost a year ago to advise the province on oilsands development as Alberta moves away from coal-fired power and toward more environmentally friendly energy.

Berman, a former Greenpeace director, had become a symbol of contradictory government policy on the oilsands, and opposition politicians had repeatedly called for her to be removed.

She pocketed almost $23,000 advising Premier Rachel Notley’s government on environmentally sustainable oilsands development, while also advocating against projects such as the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion that would help the industry and boost the provincial economy.

She has compared the oilsands to the fiery fictional wasteland of Mordor in “Lord of the Rings” and supported the B.C. NDP in the recent provincial election for its stance on killing the Trans Mountain project.

Notley had refused to fire Berman. The premier argued a diversity of voices is healthy. Phillips flatly denied the B.C. election played any part in Berman’s departure.

Progressive Conservative caucus leader Ric McIver said the decision was long overdue.

“After months of talking down Alberta and the hard-working people in the oilsands, we are happy to see that Berman has been asked to leave,” said McIver.

“Including diverse voices on this panel is important, but to appoint an anti-oilsands, eco-warrior as the co-chair was irresponsible governing from the NDP. We just hope Berman hasn’t tarnished Alberta’s reputation.”

Todd Loewen, environment critic for the Opposition Wildrose party, said it didn’t make sense to allow someone who opposed the oil industry to dictate oilsands growth.

“This government is far too comfortable sending signals to investors that so-called social licence and aiming to please eco-radicals is more important than taking sensible measures to enhance environmental protections.”

The advisory panel on Friday recommended a series of escalating measures, including financial penalties, to ensure greenhouse gas emissions from the oilsands remain within a mandated 100-megatonne limit.

Environmental advocates Karen Mahon and Alison Ronson, along with oil executives Christa Seaman and Lloyd Visser, were also taken off the panel.

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