Use of Qualified Environmental Specialists

What are qualified environmental specialists?

Qualified environmental specialists are selected by regulators to carry out specific tasks based on training, years of experience, certification, affiliation with certain organizations, insurance, etc. Reliance on qualified environmental specialists has the effect of delegating certain government functions, which includes certification of conformance with legal standards, to non-governmental actors. They reduce the burden on the regulators when reviewing and approving plans, designs and data. Qualified environmental specialists also ensure regulated organizations have the professional competencies necessary to reach environmental objectives.

Where are they used?

Professional engineers are required to sign plans as part of approval applications and code of practice notifications submitted to Alberta Environment. Water Act codes of practice provide regulated organizations with the option of using a qualified aquatic environmental specialist (QAES) to provide alternative designs to the standards specified in the code. A QAES is a person who possesses a post-secondary degree in biological sciences, a technical diploma in biological sciences or has educational equivalencies. Alberta Environment requires certified operators for water and wastewater treatment plants, landfills, compost operations and pesticide application.

Tool performance:

Pros

  • Potential reduction of costs to regulators through reduced workload.
  • Potentially, authorizations will be streamlined as work of the regulators is reduced because detailed review is not required.
  • Specifications for qualifications can be updated as needed.

Cons

  • Specialists may charge more than other qualified people to do the same work.
  • The fact that such professionals are employed or contracted by regulated actors can present a risk to program integrity and credibility. Clear rules concerning qualifications for performance of the relevant functions and management by independent and accountable professional organization are thus critical, depending on the nature of the delegated responsibilities.

Special considerations:

The definition of qualified specialists is unclear in the environmental sciences field, as many technical disciplines are needed to make sound judgments. Alberta legislation provides either exclusive right to practice (e.g. professional engineers) or exclusive right to title (e.g. biologists, agrologists) for specific professions. The legislation requires organizations to have a system to review allegations of improper practice and to discipline members who are at fault, including suspension or removal them from the organization.

The department may have considerable initial involvement in developing content for programs that train specialists. This should be reduced over time, as understanding of requirements improves. There are many non-legislated organizations that provide certification services for various professions (e.g. certified professional in erosion and sediment control). Many of these recognize formal academic training and on-the-job experience.

 

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Posted: Jan 8, 2015