By Lethbridge Herald Opinion on June 19, 2021.
The UPC government has created a committee to make recommendations towards a new Coal Policy for Alberta. This committee is expected to complete their evaluations by November this year. Considering that it took four years for the government of Peter Lougheed to develop the 1976 Coal Policy, and that Steve Allan’s inquiry has been allowed at least two years to investigate ‘unAlbertan activities’, it seems absurd that something as complex as a modern Coal Policy can be completed by autumn.
And what’s the hurry? If they intend to do a good job, the committee has much to consider.
First, the main arguments for opening up the Eastern Slopes of the Rocky Mountains are jobs and royalties. Yet, there has been no evaluation of the net benefits of coal mining: How many jobs created and how many jobs lost in other industries? How many future jobs foregone if our water becomes contaminated? What are the expected royalties, given current revenues don’t even cover the annual cost of the War Room? What are the economic liabilities for human health, loss of biodiversity, or diminishing ecosystem services?
Second, will the Coal Policy Committee be considering the fair allocation of water among competing users in the headwaters of the Oldman River basin? Will there be a considered evaluation of the contamination of water in the headwaters which may impact fish and wildlife habitat as it already has downstream of the three coal mines near Hinton and the Elk Valley in B.C.? Interestingly, recent research suggests that selenium contamination and sodium absorption ratios (SARs) in rivers downstream of these mines are reaching levels unsafe for use as irrigation water. With declining river flows and increasing concentrations of pollutants, could this happen in the Oldman River basin? And consider that recent research suggests that waste rock dumped from surface mining operations may leach contaminants for decades, and even centuries. Who will take responsibility for such long-term liabilities? Historically, Alberta governments have passed much of this responsibility on to the taxpayer and to the natural environment.
Third, will the Coal Policy Committee reflect on the recent conclusions of the International Energy Agency that “No new coal mines or extensions of existing ones are needed [â€¦] as coal demand declines precipitously. Demand for coking coal falls at a slightly slower rate than for steam coal, but existing sources of production are sufficient to cover demand through to 2050.” If this coal is not needed why would Albertans risk future economic opportunities in the tourism and recreation sector, and the viability of the $3.6 billion a year agri-food sector downstream? Why would Albertans risk the health of our environment and quality of our water for the short-term profits of foreign corporations?
Designing a Coal Policy is complex. It involves present and future uses of the Eastern Slopes. It involves jobs today and jobs tomorrow. It involves cumulative effects and the health of our natural environment. And without exaggeration, it involves the future quality of life in southern Alberta. There are a lot of questions. What’s the hurry in ramming through new coal policy without carefully considered answers to these questions?
SAGE is a leading voice for a healthy and sustainable community. For our submission to the Coal Policy Committee, visit sage-environment.org. You may send your own thoughts to the Coal Policy Committee at firstname.lastname@example.org