May 21st, 2024

Coal lease pause not enough, say groups


By Tim Kalinowski on January 20, 2021.

A portion of an interactive coal activity map (https://gis.energy.gov.ab.ca/Geoview/Coal) shows the area around the Crowsnest Pass and the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains in southern Alberta. Alberta Energy

LETHBRIDGE HERALDtkalinowski@lethbridgeherald.com

Southern Alberta conservation groups and some public officials are welcoming the UCP government’s announcement that it will be putting a pause on new coal leases in the Eastern Slopes and cancelling new offerings on 11 leases with the Oldman River headwaters, but stress this gesture does little to address the many more lease offerings the government has already approved since unilaterally rescinding the Coal Policy in June of last year.
“I think it is an important reward to the thousands of Albertans and Canadians who rejected the revocation of the Coal Policy, but it is also a very small reward, says Ian Urquhart, conservation director with the Alberta Wilderness Association.
“The 11 leases they have cancelled represent just a tiny sliver of the tens of thousands of hectares that have already been leased even prior to the revoking of the coal policy.”
“It means almost nothing,” Lethbridge West MLA and former NDP Environment Minister Shannon Phillips states more bluntly.
Phillips says the leases represent 0.13 per cent of what was already given away in coal strip mining leases as a result of the UCP repealing the 1976 Peter Loughheed Coal Policy that protected the mountains and foothills from strip mining.
“It is an indication the UCP feels themselves vulnerable on this issue, but not vulnerable enough to do anything real or truthful about the problem.
“They thought they could do something symbolic and pull the wool over our eyes,” she adds.
“Ultimately, they act in this way because they take Albertans for granted, and they are not actually interested in protecting our headwaters or stopping strip mining of our mountains, or the pollution of our drinking water here in Lethbridge and elsewhere downstream.”
The cancellation of these 11 leases and the pause announced Monday also do little to address ongoing opposition to the Grassy Mountain mine, says Bobbi Lambright of the Livingstone Landowners Group, or other potential mines the UCP seems keen to approve going forward in the Eastern Slopes region.
Lambright says she and others in her group opposed to strip mining in their backyard will not be distracted by the government’s gesture on Monday.
“They are proposing building these massive mines right in the headwaters of the Oldman River basin,” she explains.
“You are going to see destruction of the headwaters, you are going to see, in all probability, significant contamination of the headwaters.
“There is a great deal of risk associated with the water in a very vulnerable water basin that has been closed to allocation since 2006. And suddenly all of that is on the table.”
Oldman River Watershed Council executive director Shannon Frank says her shareholders main concern has not been addressed by this announcement: the potential for selenium contamination from strip mining coal in the Oldman River basin from not only one mine but several proposed new mines in the same region.
“There is a real need here, clearly, to have a broader public conservation across Alberta about the future of the Eastern Slopes,” she says. “That’s really what we need now, and we have to kind of regroup as a province and have that bigger conservation.
“A lot of what I have been hearing is not just a lack of support for coal mines, but really a call for a different kind of future where we could focus more on tourism and green jobs, and taking advantage of the natural value of the Eastern Slopes in all of its beauty. And using those kinds of natural advantages.”
Alberta Senator Doug Black, who lives in Canmore, agrees.
“I am puzzled (by the Alberta government’s coal push),” he admits. “I understand the economic arguments that it is industrial coal that is being proposed to be mined on the Eastern Slopes of the Rockies for China. I understand it is a very attractive product, and would create jobs and royalty income for the province. But I am puzzled when on the one hand governments are speaking about reducing the carbon footprint, and coal is a huge part of a carbon footprint, and I am surprised (the province) is moving ahead as aggressively as they are. I am surprised by the politics of it. I understand the economics, but I am just not sure about the politics of it.
“I think you have to be very careful about achieving a balance between legitimate environmental concerns and legitimate economic concerns,” he adds, “and I am not sure the right balance has been achieved here … It is likely time for enhanced (public) dialogue on this one, I think.”

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