September 26th, 2021

Earth Day demonstrators speak out against coal mining in the Rockies

By Herald on April 22, 2021.

Demonstrators brave the cold and walk with their signs at the Lethbridge Earth Day "Water Not Coal" Information Walk Thursday afternoon. Herald photo by Dale Woodard

Dale Woodard – Lethbridge Herald

Demonstrators speaking out against mining in the Eastern Slopes and the threat it brings to the water braved the cold, snow and wind to converge in the parking lot of Service Canada for the Lethbridge Earth Day Water Not Coal Information Walk Thursday afternoon.

Keeping with COVID-19 pandemic protocol, groups of no more than 10 holdings signs proclaiming “Protect our water”, “Save the Oldman” and “water is good” bundled up and trekked south down Stafford Drive to City Hall before looping back to the Service Canada parking lot.

James Byrne, a professor in geography and environment at the University of Lethbridge whose career has been focused on the eastern slopes and water and climate, said Thursday’s gathering was about making people aware that plans to put coal mines in the Rocky Mountains are “just terribly flawed.” 

“People have to realize that and Albertans have to pay attention,” said Byrne. “We’ve identified many science issues that haven’t been addressed by the province or by the mines. So we’re out here pointing to where people can get more information and making sure people start to think about it a little more in terms of what’s really going to happen. This is a huge, irreversible step for Alberta.”

Byrne pointed to a selenium contamination problem. 

“Tech has spent close to a billion dollars trying to fix it and they’re nowhere near there. So that’s a problem.”

Byrne also noted to concerns about arsenic.

“It looks like arsenic gets liberated when you start to move some of this material around and disturb it,” he said, adding other metals are of concern as well. “So we could have arsenic in our water and we could have selenium in our water at contamination levels that would be bad for us.”

Byrne spoke of the phasing out of coal and the shift to new ways of generating heat.

“It’s just crazy that we’re betting for 40 years on mines in an industry which is changing its practice,” he said. “It’s not using coal to make steel anymore. The steel industry has realized coal doesn’t work very well, it’s too big of a greenhouse gas footprint. We have to change, and they’re developing new ways to get the heat they need to make steel. In Europe, they’re going to have several plants operating by 2024. The Chinese are working on plants that will be operating soon. We’re going to have a metallurgical coal market which is dropping fast by 2028 to 2032 and we’re only going to be eight years into the mines and there will be no market for our coal anymore. So what are we going to do? Subsidize it? It’s absolutely faulty economics.”

Byrne said those looking for more information can visit #MountainsNotMines, or the Protect Alberta’s Rockies and Headwaters Page.

“We’re going to just put out more information as time goes on,” he said. “I think a lot of Albertans recognize this is, quite frankly, just a terrible decision. No consultation, no science done and nothing really to check up on this. It has all been done kind of in the dark. Alberta doesn’t need these mines. There are way better things we can do. If you want to invest in something valuable, renewable energy. Wind, solar and batteries. We have those resources here in Alberta. Let’s use them. They’re green and they’re going to be with us for generations.”

In the meantime, Thursday was about bundling up and spreading the word via a little signage.

“It’s not to get in the face of Lethbridge residents, but make Lethbridge residents aware,” said Byrne. “Nobody is in their face when we’re walking on the sidewalk. I think it’s great a lot of people are out on this cold day to make Lethbridge citizens aware.”

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