Published Jan 13, 2021Corb Lund is calling out Alberta's provincial government over a proposed coal mining plan in the Rocky Mountains, criticizing the sudden rollback of decades-old development policy and raising concern over the threat mining poses to bodies of water in the province.
In a video shot in his workshop, Lund outlines his thoughts on "alarming and significant changes" made to Alberta's provincial Coal Policy by the Jason Kenney-led United Conservative Party (UCP), which will effectively "open up the eastern slopes of our Rocky Mountains to potential open-pit coal mining."
Lund explains how last June, the UCP rescinded a Coal Policy that had been in place in the province since 1976, without any public consultation or input from the scientific community. The policy ensured the protection of both the mountains and the Rocky Mountains in what Lund calls "environmentally sensitive areas" from mining.
"This is an urgent situation and a matter of great public interest that every Albertan, and probably every Canadian should know about," Lund wrote on Facebook, sharing how he "put writing music on hold and have spent a ton of time reading and educating myself about this stuff," adding that he has met with "provincial ministers, MLAs, MPs, mayors, farmers, ranchers, members of Indigenous communities in the area" and more concerning the issue.
He continued: "Tossing out the Coal Policy opens up 1.5 million hectares of previously protected land along the length of the Rockies' eastern slopes to potential open pit coal extraction. This landscape is a pristine, delicate part of Alberta, full of wildlife and the source of much of our fresh water. I'm told that many leases have already been sold to foreign companies, and disruptive exploration is already underway in some cases. It seems to me that you don't sell leases unless there are mining plans underway. This is happening now, folks, quietly and right under our noses."
Lund wrote that the UCP's decision-making is "short-term thinking," acknowledging, "The government may say that this policy change is for the benefit of the economy and to create jobs. I understand that we need jobs and a healthy economy; believe me, being a performing musician 10 months into Covid I know what unemployment is like, but this isn't the answer."
You can find Lund's video message and a transcript of his Facebook post below.
Last year, the Albertan released album Agricultural Tragic.
I grew up in rural southern Alberta, and my family has lived here for many generations.
I normally keep my head down and focus on communicating with people via music. But quite a number of you have brought to my attention that recently there have been some alarming and significant changes to our provincial Coal Policy, which open up the eastern slopes of our Rocky Mountains to potential open pit coal mining.
This is an urgent situation and a matter of great public interest that every Albertan, and probably every Canadian should know about. So much so that I've put writing music on hold and have spent a ton of time reading and educating myself about this stuff. I've taken meetings with many people from all sides of this issue; provincial ministers, MLAs, MPs, mayors, farmers, ranchers, members of Indigenous communities in the area, hunters, fisherman, former legislators, lawyers, conservation specialists, and the general public.
I need to say that these are my own personal comments about a matter of public interest; they are not intended to be made maliciously, but from a place of deep personal concern, driven by all of the information that I've gathered on this issue. I'm neutral on all of this as far as political affiliation; I'd say the same no matter who was behind this. I've tried to be fair minded and consider all points of view, and after much study of the situation, I'm writing this to tell you that I 100% oppose these policy changes. In my opinion, it's a very big threat to much of our fresh water and our landscape, and a terrible idea for Alberta's long-term wellbeing.
On the afternoon of the Friday before May long weekend this past year, in the middle of the Covid media frenzy, it was quietly announced that Alberta's Coal Policy would be rescinded, with what I understand was little or no public consultation. June 1st our Coal Policy was rescinded.
Our provincial Coal Policy informed regulations that govern open pit coal mining on crown land and was enacted in 1976 after years of research and public consultation by Peter Lougheed's Progressive Conservative administration. It has served us well for decades as a barrier to open pit coal mining in these pristine areas and its removal puts us one major step closer to having Alberta's foothills torn down and our water contaminated. The Coal Policy was one of the defining documents that directed the Energy Resources Conservation Board (now called the Alberta Energy Regulator) as to where open pit coal mining was not allowed (Category 2 lands). Removing the Coal Policy allows the Regulator to now consider and potentially approve open pit mines in these environmentally sensitive areas.
Tossing out the Coal Policy opens up 1.5 million hectares of previously protected land along the length of the Rockies' eastern slopes to potential open pit coal extraction. This landscape is a pristine, delicate part of Alberta, full of wildlife and the source of much of our fresh water. I'm told that many leases have already been sold to foreign companies, and disruptive exploration is already underway in some cases. It seems to me that you don't sell leases unless there are mining plans underway. This is happening now, folks, quietly and right under our noses.
In my opinion, it is inappropriate and short-sighted for government, regardless of party, to make decisions of this magnitude without wide consultation with the groups that could be irreversibly affected by open pit coal mines here in the foothills; ranchers, downstream farmers, drinkers of municipal water, First Nations communities, sportsmen, conservation and wildlife agencies or the public in general.
After all I've absorbed about this, I think there are a bunch of really serious problems with removing Alberta's Coal Policy that restricted open pit coal mining in these delicate areas. The biggest of these is water, water, water, water. My understanding is that you can have either coal mining or clean water, but you can't have both. Very often, coal mining contaminates watersheds and their rivers and streams with selenium. Selenium is a bio accumulating element that is highly toxic to aquatic species, and at increased levels, toxic to animals and humans. Meanwhile, I'm told there is no way to reliably remove toxic selenium from drinking water once it's contaminated; the technology apparently doesn't exist at this time.
The vulnerable areas include the headwaters of the Oldman River system, as well as the Red Deer River and the North Saskatchewan River which, among other things, provide the cities of Lethbridge, Red Deer and Edmonton, as well as many rural and First Nations areas with their drinking water. This is a big deal. The Oldman system irrigates much of southern Alberta's farmland that is key to Alberta's agricultural economy -- potatoes, corn, wheat, canola, etc. Believe me, we don't want to open any doors to selenium contamination of the Oldman. I also understand that as I write this, adjustments to the Oldman River Basin Water Allocation Order for irrigated farming are being considered because the coal mines need a vast amount of fresh water in order to operate, and there's only so much to go around. It would appear that we are looking to take the water from the farmers in order to give it to the coal mines.
One can look just across the border at BC's Elk Valley to see how selenium related to coal mining has contaminated urban drinking water in Sparwood and destroyed fish populations. Take five minutes and Google it for yourself. Millions of dollars have been spent on trying to get the selenium out of the water, yet the problem persists. This could happen to us, folks. If you drink Alberta's water, you should care about this. And if you ranch, irrigate crops, hunt, fish, skidoo, camp in the backcountry, spend time on horseback in the foothills, etc. you should care about this. Hell, even if you sit in an office building in Calgary and like to look west on a clear day you should care about this.
The government may say that this policy change is for the benefit of the economy and to create jobs. I understand that we need jobs and a healthy economy; believe me, being a performing musician 10 months into Covid I know what unemployment is like, but this isn't the answer. In my opinion it's short-term thinking.
The modest number of jobs the mines may create won't make up for what we lose if we allow the foothills to be ruined and our water contaminated. In addition, my understanding is that most of the mining leases are being sold to foreign companies who typically ship the coal overseas, and that the royalties Albertans will receive are negligible compared to potential environmental cost. Economically speaking, two of the main industries in Alberta that we can always count on, especially during downturns in the economy are agriculture and tourism. Open pit coal mining will threaten them both and it's a bet I don't want to make.
I'm not speaking today as a musician. I'm speaking as a sixth generation rural Albertan whose ancestors have done their part to take care of this area for over 120 years.
I'm speaking for the ranchers whose grazing land is threatened by these changes.
I'm speaking in solidarity with the First Nations people whose water quality may be affected.
I'm concerned for my many friends who are southern Alberta farmers and who may have the quantity and quality of their irrigation water jeopardized.
I'm speaking for concerned citizens in our cities who get their drinking water from our major rivers.
And I'm speaking for my mom. She grew up in the foothills and has made it very clear to me what she thinks about having open pit coal mines around here.
I encourage everybody to learn more about this issue ASAP because this situation is developing quickly. It's not hard to find the information online, so you don't have to take my word for it. Have a look and make up your own minds. These developments seem to be largely unknown to most Albertans; there has been very little public discussion on this critical issue, so please share and spread this message on Facebook, on Twitter, on Instagram, email it around, etc. Talk to your provincial MLA and your federal MP. Schedule a meeting with them and ask them questions about these issues and tell them what you think.
Get informed and speak up. If we make enough noise, we can protect the eastern slopes and the water we rely on, but the clock's ticking.