By Letter to the Editor on April 28, 2021.
Editor: The government of Peter Lougheed implemented the Coal Policy after substantial consultation and expert review over a period of four years. They decided to restrict coal development in the mountains.
Their conclusion was that the Eastern Slopes were vital to the economy and the well-being of human population because this region was the primary source of clean water for the province.
Minister Nixon assures Albertans [Government Will Continue to Protect Alberta’s Water, Lethbridge Herald, April 17, 2021] that the water is being protected and that the rules remain unchanged. This assurance is difficult to reconcile with the numbers.
The Oldman Allocation Order (Section 3) provides that an allocation may only be made for one of seven purposes (municipal, commercial, recreation, community water supply, agriculture, irrigation and industrial purposes). Allocations of water for industrial purposes must not exceed 150 acre-feet, per this order.
For context, let’s remember that this government negotiated with Australian coal mining corporations (seemingly outside of public inquiry) and rescinded the 1976 Coal Policy without notice and without consultation with Albertans. They then opened the Eastern Slopes to coal leases and immediately permitted temporary licenses for removal of water (outside of the allowed allocation) for exploration.
After massive expressions of public outrage, they reinstated the Coal Policy â€¦ well, except for the already leased lands and without addressing the Grassy Mountain and Tent Mountain coal mining projects already put in process.
There appears to be no cost-benefit or net-jobs analysis for this fixation on coal mining.
For the Grassy Mountain project alone, Benga Mining Limited has applied for the total 150 acre-feet allowed in the Oldman Allocation Order.
In addition, they have requested 100 acre-feet to be transferred permanently from a water license held by Devon Canada (diverted from the Crowsnest River) and 200 acre-feet transferred temporarily for 25 years from a license for municipal purposes held by Blairmore (diverted from York Creek).
This is for only the one mine. Where will the water come from for mining the leases that have already been sold? What will the impact be on all of these small creeks when large volumes of water are removed? Is this what Minister Nixon was saying?
The UCP government has promised Albertans a consultation process for a new Coal Policy.
The Terms of Reference for this consultation does not include water allocation. It also does not include a discussion on potential water contamination (like selenium, arsenic or calcite).
It does not include a discussion on parks and other recreational uses on public land, and it does not include a discussion on future economies based on tourism (assuming there are tourists interested in industrial landscapes).
The UCP government wants this process done by the end of the year – which is nothing like the robust process used by Premier Lougheed. Does this sound like protecting anything (except coal mining)?
So, you can see nothing has changed. The UCP government is driven to divert public attention using a faux-consultation while they continue to entrench coal mining along the Eastern Slopes.
There are no apparent plans for protecting the quality or quantity of water needed by Albertans and an agriculture-based economy.
All this cheap land and free water to mine coal for a 1 per cent royalty. And all this without a risk analysis for lost jobs and other costs in the downstream economy. It brings to mind the adage about selling one’s birthright for a mess of pottage.
It is time, Lethbridge, to step up and protect our water.
Southern Alberta Group for the Environment