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Editorial: Coal quandary

A puzzling political decision has landed the Alberta government backlash from around the province.

A puzzling political decision has landed the Alberta government backlash from around the province. 

Much has been said and written in the media in recent weeks about the United Conservative Party’s decision last year to revoke a longstanding policy that protected the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains in southern Alberta from open-pit coal mining. The policy, which had been in place for more than 40 years, was created when Peter Lougheed was Alberta's premier in the mid-1970s.

While the coal policy that protected the Rocky Mountains from mining operations was revoked last May by Energy Minister Sonya Savage, the issue came back to the forefront of public discussion more recently, when Alberta country music stars Corb Lund and Paul Brandt criticized the government’s decision on social media.

The musicians made valid arguments as to why open-pit coal development in the area is a bad idea and why the 1975 policy should be reinstated. While mining operations may provide economic benefits and create jobs, their environmental impact would be incredibly detrimental. Environmentalists say the region in question is an ecologically sensitive area and open-pit mining would endanger watersheds and the wildlife that inhabit the region – not to mention the lifestyle of area ranchers.

Of particular concern would be the potential release into the water system of selenium – a pollutant that would harm aquatic species.

In response to backlash about the government’s decision, Savage issued a statement Jan. 18, saying the Province would pause future coal lease sales in former Category 2 lands. She added 11 coal leases that were auctioned off in December 2020 will be cancelled.

“We have listened carefully to the concerns raised in recent days, and thank those who spoke up with passion,” she said, adding coal leases do not allow for exploration, development or production without a comprehensive regulatory review.

However, critics were quick to point out Savage's cancelled leases only equate to a small percentage of lands that would be at risk.