By Lethbridge Herald Opinon on November 7, 2020.
change in alberta’s coal policy goes against true environmental balance
SOUTHERN ALBERTA GROUP FOR
Imagine a teeter-totter balanced by children, each able to launch their end in turn. This might represent a balance between a healthy environment and human economy. When you think of “balance,” you might think of the scales of justice: equity and fairness. Or you might consider “balance” as actions working in harmony, or the notion of sustainability – that a quality of life may be sustained indefinitely into the future.
Now consider the policy statement approved by 76.3 per cent of those voting at the recent AGM of the UCP: The United Conservative Party “is committed to balancing environmental objectives with the need for economy growth, development and use of private land, and public enjoyment of public land.” The rationale stated in the policy recommendation was that “environmental laws, regulations and policies, including the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act, the Water Act and the Public Lands Act, and their applications have placed an undue burden on agriculture, land development, industry and rural residents.” Undue burden? These are the acts that protect the health and safety of our water, our air, our land and biodiversity in the province.
Existing environmental laws, regulations and policies were developed over the past 50 years in Alberta with extensive consultation processes with scientists, stakeholders and the public. These laws and regulations were enacted to protect human health, economic interests and the long-term stability, integrity and beauty of the natural environment that sustains us. These laws and regulations were designed to achieve balance.
One must ask how, then, we have found ourselves with environmental laws and regulations that are placing an “undue burden” on the economy. What is clear is that we are no longer talking about “balance.”
Only 1.25 per cent of Alberta’s Grasslands Natural Region is protected under legislation. Grasslands contain 75 per cent if the species-at-risk in the province. Within this grassland region, 64 per cent of natural wetlands have been lost. We continue to put more pressure on our rivers to provide for growing urban populations, for agricultural needs like irrigation and intensive livestock operations, and to dilute our pollution to levels considered safe to downstream users. Now, we have a government that has unilaterally changed the Coal Policy allowing mountain-top removal techniques of open-pit coal mining in our headwaters, risking long-term impacts on land-use and the contamination of our water. We have a government that is backtracking on land and wildlife preservation through our parks, as well as current regional management plans for monitoring and regulating cumulative effects of human impact.
If we were really talking about “balance” we would be talking about preservation and restoration, not the further conversion of natural places to human industry. If we were really talking about “balance” we would not have a UCP policy that looks like a petulant little boy sitting alone on the ground at the end of a teeter-totter.
Braum Barber is the president of the Southern Alberta Group for the Environment