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Oil sands producers are cutting their funding to an environmental watchdog by 15 per cent.

Jeff McIntosh/AP

Canada's oil sands producers have cut back funding to an environmental organization that depends on them for the majority of its budget.

Members of the Oil Sands Developers Group have agreed to provide the Cumulative Effects Management Association with $5-million next year. That's a 15-per-cent cut from CEMA's 2011 budget and barely half of the $9.6-million the organization says it needs for 2012. The Alberta government kicks in a small amount of funding, as well.

In a news release obtained by The Globe and Mail, CEMA executive director Glen Semenchuk said he now faces a "a significant budget shortfall" in 2012.

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"We plan to mount an aggressive campaign to seek additional funding from various sources including individual oil sands operators, other levels of government and non-government funding organizations," he said in the release, which is to be distributed Monday.

The funding cut comes as oil sands operators continue to find themselves under attack for their environmental record. Governments, too, have come under fire for inadequate monitoring of the oil sands, sparking a broader discussion over how Alberta should track emissions and ecological impact in the Fort McMurray area.

Efforts are now being made to boost monitoring, in part by creating one central agency for that purpose. Some in industry believe CEMA, whose primary role is to set standards for how to measure impacts, has served its purpose by advising on numerous policies that have already been put in place.

Supporters of CEMA, however, say the organization also does important monitoring work, and accuse industry of cutting funding after it lost veto power earlier this year through a change to the association's voting structure. That change brought about a raft of new program ideas, including proposed work on groundwater, and health impacts from oil sands odours. It's now not clear what can be funded with the association's smaller budget.

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