STOP: Stop Tar Sands Operations Permanently

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Hotlines compete over crisis calls

Posted by mhudema on May 8, 2008

Alberta Environment, Greenpeace locked in telephone duel
Jason Markusoff
The Edmonton Journal

EDMONTON – Greenpeace and the Alberta government are doing battle again — this time, about who has the hottest hotline.

While Alberta Environment is trying to better promote its own emergency complaints line, the department’s minister decried Wednesday the activist group’s call that Fort McMurray residents and oilsands workers phone in tips to its Greenpeace office.

The environmentalist group advertised in Wednesday’s edition of the Fort McMurray Today, requesting anonymous tips about injured wildlife or damage caused by the oilsands.

Environment Minister Rob Renner said that if Albertans are “truly concerned” about dealing with such problems, they would call Alberta’s 24-hour, anonymous line instead.

“We have the rapid response team, we have the emergency personnel, we have the expertise and we have the capacity to deal with it,” Renner said. “Frankly, Greenpeace does not.”

But in the wake of Greenpeace’s advertisement, Alberta Environment has tried to draw more attention to its hotline. This week, it finally posted a clear link to the toll-free number on the main page of the ministry’s website (although it has long been in the “emergency” listings at the front of phone books).

Premier Ed Stelmach and Renner both admitted Wednesday that the government might need to do more.

“To be perfectly frank, we can do a better job of getting the numbers out … if you ask me, the only number I can remember is 911,” Stelmach said at an opening of a chef’s academy in Sherwood Park. Renner said his ministry may start advertising the number itself.

Last week, a tipster alerted provincial authorities about 500 ducks that landed on a toxic tailings pond at a Syncrude mine.

Nearly all died, and the province is investigating what went wrong and why the oilsands company didn’t set up their sonic cannons as wildlife deterrents, which Syncrude has said was due to bad weather.

Greenpeace has advertised its own office line after it received a tip Saturday about loons that landed on a salt-laden treatment pond on a ConocoPhillips oilsands site south of Fort McMurray.

The group then alerted Alberta Environment to that incident, although the ministry is investigating whether the company blew the whistle first.

A company spokeswoman said ConocoPhillips will wait for the investigation to determine what happened.

Jessie Schwarz, a Greenpeace campaigner, said the group will alert the province about any problem someone leaves on their tip line. She was unabashed about her organization’s political intentions for the hotline.

“We’re using it as part of our campaign to stop the tarsands and (highlight) areas in which monitoring is failing,” she said.

The group will also alert the public when it hears about environmental problems.

“We really want to start putting this more into the hands of the public and the people who are trying to protect Alberta, as opposed to our government and the oil industry who are walking hand-in-hand,” Schwarz said.

It was the government that alerted the public about the Syncrude incident, Alberta Environment spokeswoman Kim Capstick said.

The government’s emergency hotline received 3,893 inquiries, complaints or alerts in 2005-2006, the most recent fiscal year for which data is available.

Officials monitor it 24 hours a day. Greenpeace’s tips line is a voice-mail box that its three Edmonton staffers regularly check, Schwarz said.

Greenpeace made national headlines last month, as two of its activists snuck onto a catwalk overhead a Tory fundraising dinner and unfurled an anti-Stelmach banner — during a speech the premier was using to discuss his government’s oilsands promotion efforts and to chastise Greenpeace and other environmentalists for spinning negative stories about the oilsands’ environmental toll.

jmarkusoff@thejournal.canwest.com

ON THE LINE

– Alberta Environment complaint / emergency hotline: 1-800-222-6514. Live operators 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

– Greenpeace tips line: 780-430-9202.

A voice-mail box, checked regularly by office staff.

© The Edmonton Journal 2008
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