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EDITORIAL: Repeal of 1976 coal policy a huge mistake

Mistakes come in all sizes. There are small ones, medium sized mistakes and large

Mistakes come in all sizes.

There are small ones, medium sized mistakes and large. 

But then there are mistakes so big that for generations to come, future Albertans will write about them, while shaking their heads in shame that anybody would be so foolish.

The UCP government's decision to repeal the 1976 coal policy is one of those huge mistakes, which those who recognize it for the misguided hubris that it is, that currently has many citizens of this province fraught with concern.

This change in policy opened up wide areas of Crown land that lie between the Rocky Mountains and the prairies to open-pit coal mining. At a time when our federal government is telling the rest of the world to move away from coal, the Alberta government sees potential new markets to export this coal elsewhere. 

Soon after the policy change was announced, several major projects were announced. While at first the federal government was going to leave the environmental review to the provincial regulator, recently the federal minister of the environment announced a change of heart. 

The feds recently announced a review of the approval to expand the Vista coal mine near Hinton, noting the increased size and production involved. The company submitted two applications for the expansion, both of which were under the threshold to trigger a federal review. 

This expansion of open-pit coal mining was made possible due to the repeal of the coal policy and that decision was done without any consultation whatsoever. Not with Albertans and not with First Nations. 

You'd think Premier Jason Kenney would have learned by now how failing to consult with Indigenous people can sideline a major energy industry project since that's exactly what happened to the Trans-Mountain Pipeline thanks to decisions he and his federal colleagues made as part of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government. 

The feds have also initiated a strategic assessment of mining for thermal coal in Canada. One of the major concerns over exporting this resource is that it will contribute to overall worldwide greenhouse gas emissions, even if it isn't consumed in our country. 

At the same time, the Louis Bull Tribe and the Stoney Nakoda Nation have requested the federal government review of these changes and proposed projects. 

Some of the concerns raised, in addition to the lack of consultation, are the direct effects open-pit coal mining would have on wildlife, especially species at risk, and the watershed it is located within. The area now open to this type of industrial activity is where the drinking water for millions of Albertans originates. 

The Minister of Environment and Parks Jason Nixon and Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Tourism Tanya Fir penned letters of support for an Australian company trying to raise capital to mine coal in the region. 

Valory Resources is proposing to build a 16,000 hectare open-pit coal mine near the Bighorn wilderness area. The Coal Policy would have prohibited that activity. 

These letters were sent before the policy was repealed. 

Both Nixon and Fir have some serious soul searching to do within their respective rolls. Strip mining for coal in what was once pristine and protected wilderness in the Foothills of the Rocky Mountains is nothing to be proud of.

It will not result in what they promise. It will not bring jobs back to Alberta's beleaguered oil and gas sector. This will not bring prosperity to Albertans.

It will damage our credibility on the world stage as a place where conservation means protecting areas for their inherent value, not just that which can be extracted from it and sold on world commodity markets. 

Open-pit coal mines cannot be undone – they are permanent scars on the landscape that will be around for generations to remember. 

Alberta can be open for business and create jobs without having to sacrifice environmentally sensitive areas to do so. That's what economic diversification is all about – that is the direction this government should be heading. 

This change in policy was a mistake and it will be one that if allowed to proceed will scar the Earth permanently in places where we used to proudly uphold values of conservation. 


Rocky Mountain Outlook

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