For nearly two years, the United Conservative Party (UCP) government has routinely placed profit before the protection of our beloved Albertan environment and landscapes. In a long list of anti-environment policies and decisions that undermine the land, water, and people of Alberta, opening the province up to destructive open-pit coal mining operations is just the most recent.
During the peak of the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the Kenney government quietly made a decision to rescind former Premier Lougheed’s long-standing Coal Policy of 1976, calling it outdated and redundant. The reversal of this progressive policy opens up previously restricted areas in Category 2 lands along the foothills and Eastern slopes of the Rockies.
Kenney and the UCP’s disregard for our environment has been demonstrated loud and clear in the attempted gutting of Alberta’s parks system, the government’s rollback of environmental reporting required of industry during the pandemic, and an absurd $3.5 million public inquiry report that academics say is based on climate change denialism and oil industry propaganda.
Each of these attacks were specifically meant to pave the way to where we are today. As such, it comes as no surprise to see the lack of respect for Alberta’s environment in pushing the development of coal mines in the Rockies.
The environmental effects of open-pit coal mining are devastating to the surrounding land, water, and wildlife. These mines will threaten land that is critical to biodiversity, and the habitats of many species including grizzlies, elk, caribou, and Alberta’s already threatened population of westslope cutthroat trout.
The drinking and irrigation water of three provinces will also be endangered by the water hogging nature of these coal mines, as the UCP works to reopen long-standing water allocation agreements. These mines also risk contaminating Albertan watersheds with toxic amounts of selenium, which similar existing coal mines in Alberta have already been doing for years, according to recently released data.
B.C.’s Elk Valley open-pit coal mine offers ample evidence of the destruction caused by these mines. This coal project is responsible for habitat destruction, threatening water quality in B.C. and Montana, and causing deformities and population crash in B.C.’s trout population. The images of this open-pit mine are devastating and something that no Albertan who cherishes our landscapes wants to see in the eastern slopes. B.C. has struggled with the environmental and health impacts of this mine for decades, offering every reason for Kenney to avoid similar endeavors.
With this much at risk, a consultation process was the least we should have expected. However, nobody was told about the decision, let alone asked for input. First Nations, ranchers, environmental groups, and the general public were all caught off guard by the abrupt cancellation of the Coal Policy. The one group that was part of this decision? The Coal Association of Canada. A surprise to no one.
A collective of stakeholders and interveners has now taken the issue to court, arguing that the change should have required consultation. The Kenney government, however, argues the change did not require one. But whether a consultation process was legally required or not seems to only be part of the point.
Regardless of the legality of unilaterally rescinding these protections, it has never been more evident that neither Kenney, nor the rest of his government, prioritize recognizing and addressing the concerns of Albertans. Instead, the interests of Australian billionaires and coal corporations are of their highest concern.
Albertans, rightfully outraged, rallied hard over the past several months to turn these decisions around. Attempting to mitigate this immense public pressure in early January, energy minister Sonya Savage announced her government had “listened carefully” and would be cancelling a set of 11 coal leases, as well as pausing future coal leases in some key areas. If Albertans were the pushovers that the UCP seem to think us, this might have seemed like a win.
However, Albertans have come to know exactly how little this government cares about our interests and how little it can be trusted. Looking at the maps of remaining coal leases, it is clear that the last thing the government has done is listen carefully. 420,000 hectares of previously Category 2 land is still unaffected by this announcement while the cancelled leases consisted of a mere 1,800 hectares. The announcement will not stop open-pit and mountaintop coal mines in the eastern slopes.
Kenney’s government is making decisions that will alter the lives of millions and the environment that we all love for short-term profit. They are trying to put a price on what Albertans know is priceless, and we, in the absence of a government which respects our wishes, must fight back. We showed them our strength when we organized and forced them to continue protecting our parks.
For the future of our land and water, for the health of the people and wildlife of Alberta and Canada, we must show them again by demanding that the 1976 Coal Policy be reinstated. We owe it to ourselves and to future generations to do everything we can to stop this government from wreaking havoc on our environment for short term profit.
In labelling the 1976 Coal Policy ‘outdated’ and ‘redundant’ and continuing to push Alberta’s environment down a path of destruction against the will of the people, Kenney and the UCP have made it abundantly clear that the only thing outdated and redundant is their government.