Building Strategies for Cleaner Air

The Clean Air Strategic Alliance draws heavily on the expertise of APEGGA professionals. Everybody benefits from this relationship – including the public.

Editor’s Note: The Clean Air Strategic Alliance and the APEGGA Environment Committee provided the following article for publication.

Alberta’s natural beauty and its heavy reliance on resource-based industries make protecting the environment an important consideration in any development activity. Society looks to technology and science to help meet the sustainable development challenge, and professional engineers and geoscientists are often at the forefront of finding solutions.

To the public, engineers are individuals who build things or make something work better – bridges, buildings, pollution control, waste management systems. But over the last 10 years, many professional engineers and geoscientists in Alberta have been part of a different kind of construction activity.

Through the Clean Air Strategic Alliance, engineers have collaborated with a wide variety of stakeholders to build and implement strategies to improve air quality in our province. CASA is a multi-stakeholder organization established in 1994 as a result of the Alberta Government’s Clean Air Strategy for Alberta.

The organization has a mandate to implement the Comprehensive Air Quality Management System for Alberta, and supports three air quality management goals:

• Protect the environment
• Optimize economic performance and efficiency
• Seek continuous improvement of air quality.

Professional engineers contribute to CASA’s activities in many areas, among them air quality and emission monitoring, air pollution control, air emission dispersion modeling, environmental management systems, data analysis, and industrial processes and related air emissions.

The strategic nature of CASA’s air emissions policy work requires a good understanding of complex and interconnected issues.

The Role of Professional Knowledge

“With their problem-solving aptitudes and analytical training, engineers bring considerable practical knowledge and experience to CASA projects,” says Ken Tsang, P.Eng., the director of environment, health and safety with Dow Chemical Canada Inc. and a former CASA board member. “Engineers are also familiar with technology options and what they can reasonably be expected to achieve, which is a fundamental consideration when dealing with air quality issues.”

Tom Marr-Lang agrees. He has a bachelor of science in electrical engineering and is policy director with the Pembina Institute, as well as vice-president of the CASA board.

“The broad skill set of engineers has been extremely valuable in the CASA forum. Engineers have made substantial contributions to the design of policy solutions that are technically and economically feasible, while also responding proactively to environmental drivers and public interest concerns.”

At first, this can be a challenge for engineers and geoscientists used to black-and-white, technical solutions, because multi-stakeholder consensus processes often involve several shades of grey. Professionals who can communicate their ideas and knowledge effectively are central players in helping to achieve a common understanding of the problems and potential solutions.

But at the end of the day, the best technical solution to a problem may not be the right answer. Public and stakeholder acceptance, economic factors, and political realities must also be considered or the solution will not likely be agreed to.

Engineers and geoscientists involved with CASA come from a wide range of backgrounds and situations. They may be associated with a government agency, company, industry association, environmental organization or community group.

This diversity can present another challenge – the joint responsibilities of professionals to represent their employers’ or organizations’ interests as well as share their professional knowledge to ensure that decisions are made based on the best possible information and judgment, regardless of personal or stakeholder positions or interests. To some extent, this challenge is minimized by CASA’s consensus decision-making approach and participation ground rules.

Although CASA plays an important role in developing strategies and solutions to address air quality issues in Alberta, it does not implement them. Thus, the role of professionals is particularly significant as the policy development results are transferred to government regulatory agencies or to industry players for implementation by staff who are also trained as engineers or geoscientists.

The benefits of being involved with CASA go both ways. Engineers and geoscientists provide knowledge, expertise and analytical skills, and CASA provides a high profile and influential forum in which professionals can demonstrate their value in helping to address important societal issues, of which air quality management and protection is one.

CASA’s Major Successes

In the decade since it was formed, CASA has had many successes, and professionals have been part of most of them.

In 1999, CASA stakeholders created a framework that reduced solution gas flaring in Alberta by 62 per cent within three years of its implementation. This approach has substantially improved local air quality, improved economic efficiencies for energy producers, created a new reporting structure for the regulator, and triggered new research and innovation.
Nearly 95 per cent of solution gas is now being conserved or used in some other manner. The framework was subsequently extended to cover facility flaring, well test flaring, and the venting of solution gas.

In early 2004, the provincial government’s cabinet approved CASA’s emissions management framework for the electricity sector. This framework, which is now being implemented by the government, will lead to substantial reductions of four important substances. Power plant emissions of mercury, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and primary particulate matter will drop significantly between 2009 and 2025.

The framework provides long-term policy certainty to the electricity industry in Alberta, enables technology advances to be incorporated in a timely manner, provides a mechanism for identifying and dealing with hotspots, and will help guide the development of national standards for mercury.

David Spink, P.Eng., with Alberta Environment for 25 years, was the government co-chair of the team that developed the electricity framework.
“ The electricity project team provided a demanding but very rewarding experience,” says Mr. Spink. “As an engineer you are expected to supply a strong technical perspective on a broad range of pollution control issues. Working this technical information into an overall emissions management framework that also has social, economic and legal elements is very challenging but when you are successful, as the CASA team was, it is extremely rewarding.”



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