By Cole Parkinson
Taber-born musician Corb Lund has started to speak out around changes made by the provincial government around where coal development could go forward.
On June 1, the provincial government officially rescinded a 1976 coal development policy brought in by the Peter Lougheed-led government — which explained how and where coal development could go ahead in the province. It also didn’t allow for open-pit mines over a large area and banned any mining at all in the most sensitive spots.
“Some folks that listen to my music — some ranching families in the foothills here in Alberta and the eastern slopes of the Rockies and some people out of province — have brought it to my attention there has been some pretty big changes to our coal policy in Alberta,” said Lund in a video posted to Facebook Jan.12. “Having to do with open-pit mining, also known as mountain top removal coal mining in something called category two land, which is crown land that is quite protected, until now, and it’s quite pristine. They say it’s about the size of Jamaica, it’s about 1.5 million hectares.”
Lund was also critical about how the changes were announced by the provincial government without consultation from Albertans.
“I don’t think that’s right. From what I understand, there was not a whole lot of consultation with the public, ranchers, farmers, First Nations people or municipalities, or anything. I don’t think that is how you should govern, but the deal is since the Lougheed government in the 1970s put this in place, and the idea was, they put years of study into it and years of consultation, and it was widely, deeply investigated and they came to the conclusion this area was so pristine and so sensitive, if it was ever surface mined, it couldn’t be restored, and I agree with them. We’ve all seen the foothills, it’s beautiful country.”
The changes were announced in a media release May 15 titled ‘Updated coal rules keep protection, strengthen certainty.’ The release stated changes would modernize ‘almost 45-year-old rules for coal development’ and would ‘provide additional flexibility and certainty for industry, while maintaining stringent protection for sensitive lands.”
“As we strengthen our focus on economic recovery and revitalization, we will continue to make common-sense decisions to create certainty and flexibility for industry, while ensuring sensitive lands are protected for Albertans to continue to enjoy. Rescinding the outdated coal policy in favour of modern oversight will help attract new investment for an important industry and protect jobs for Albertans,” said Sonya Savage, minister of energy in the media release.
A big concern for Lund comes down to the issue of potential water contamination in the nearby rivers.
“There’s a lot of bad things about it, but the biggest one probably is water. Because contained in this huge area are the headwaters of the Oldman River, you’ve got the North Saskatchewan, the Red Deer River, and that’s drinking water folks, for the good part of the province. Both rural and urban, First Nations, it’s a big deal,” he said. “They’re going to be sucking out a bunch of freshwater out of the river. More importantly, is something called selenium contamination of groundwater.”
Lund also pointed to Elk Valley, B.C., which has been dealing with large amounts of selenium contamination for several years.
He also touched on the fact he has heard most of the land already sold has been bought by international companies. According to CBC, the provincial government has sold leases on about 1.4 million hectares of land since the policy was rescinded.
“It’s now open for coal leases, and in fact, a bunch of them, to my understanding, have been sold. And not only sold, but sold almost entirely to foreign companies. It’s moving real quick folks. It’s pretty scary.”
Since becoming aware of the changes, he stated he had been in contact with several types of people including MLAs, MPs, ranchers, farmers, First Nations and others.
“I know there is always different values to balance, but I gave it my best shot. I took all of the information for weeks and studied it. I got to tell you, I’m kind of pissed off about this. I don’t like the content of the changes, and I certainly don’t like the way it was done,” he continued. “I’m not an anti-resource guy. I have friends and immediate family that work in the oil patch. I write songs about oil riggers and I drive a pickup, all that stuff. But we should not have open-pit coal mines anywhere near our rivers and we should not have it anywhere near that area, period.”
He was also skeptical of the notion the changes to the policy were purely to enhance the economic landscape in Alberta.
“They’re going to tell you it’s for the economy right? That’s always it. The economy and jobs, and jobs and the economy, and of course, that’s important. I’m a musician in nine or 10 months into COVID, I know about unemployment, it sucks. I have empathy and sympathy for that, but this is not the way to solve it. This is juvenile, short-term thinking. Why would you take any risks at all with our water?” he asked.
“What’s the one sector that keeps us going when our resources are in a slump? It’s agriculture. This is for sure going to mess up a bunch of grazing land for the cattle guys. The Oldman River system supplies irrigation water for a huge chunk of southern Alberta farmers. We’re talking potatoes, corn, canola, wheat and sugar beets — Taber corn, right? We do not want selenium in the Oldman River. We do not want any chance of selenium in the Oldman River.”
Lund also urged anyone concerned about the change in the policy to reach out to their local representatives.
“Call your MLA, call your MP. Go meet with them and say ‘why are we doing this? What are the advantages to Alberta?’”
Along with Lund, Alberta-born country musician Paul Brandt has also lent his voice to create change.
“I don’t know Corb Lund extremely well, but I’ve always been a fan from afar,” reads an Instagram post on Brandt’s account. “Now, I’m a lifer. @corblund is right — This is a big deal and a bad deal. As an Albertan who enjoys fly-fishing in our clear waters and spending time in the outdoors, I hope our government listens, consults and re-considers. We can’t put short-sighted economic benefit ahead of long-term consequences that could devastate our people and land for generations to come. Please see the link in bio to see Corb talk about open-pit coal mining in our Rocky Mountains, and how you can #SaveOurMountains.”
For more information visit http://www.savethemountains.ca.
On Monday, Minister Savage posted a statement on the coal leases issues that had arisen.
“We have listened carefully to the concerns raised in recent days, and thank those who spoke up with passion. As a result, we will pause future coal lease sales in former Category 2 lands. The coal leases from the December 2020 auction will be cancelled.”
“I want to be absolutely clear — under the current terms, just as it was under the 1976 coal policy, coal leases do not allow for exploration, development or production without a comprehensive regulatory review. A lease holder has no more right to set foot on lease property than any other Albertan. The same rules apply now, as before. This pause will provide our government with the opportunity to ensure the interests of Albertans, as owners of mineral resources, are protected. Coal development remains an important part of the Western Canadian economy, especially in rural communities, but we are committed to demonstrating that it will only be developed responsibly under Alberta’s modern regulatory standards and processes.”
“This decision has no impact on existing coal projects currently under regulatory review.”