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Alberta musician Corb Lund on proposed coal mines in Rockies: ‘I 100% oppose these policy changes’

Click to play video 'Southern Alberta ranchers weigh in on coal mining after Corb Lund speaks out' Southern Alberta ranchers weigh in on coal mining after Corb Lund speaks out
WATCH: In a controversial move, Alberta rescinded a decades-old policy that protected Rocky Mountain landscapes from coal mining. But efforts to stop production are gaining momentum from ranchers and high-profile people. Jill Croteau reports – Jan 14, 2021

Corb Lund, perhaps Canada’s pre-eminent singer about rural life and cowboy culture, is warning Albertans.

“I’ve seen this coming for a while,” he said from his home in Lethbridge, Alta., the day after posting a Facebook video lambasting the province’s plans to open a vast stretch of its Rocky Mountains to open-pit coal mining.

Read more: Alberta offers Rocky Mountain coal leases after rescinding protection policy

“I wrote this song about 15 years ago. It’s called This Is My Prairie.”

In it, a rancher laments the industrialization and destruction of the landscape — exactly what Lund fears may happen to his beloved Alberta foothills as coal companies snap up thousands of hectares of previously unmined mountaintops and valleys.

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“The scope of this thing — it’s huge,” Lund said in an interview.

“I’m from the foothills and it threatens the hell out of our water. And the mountains. It’s a big one.”

Lund has released 11 albums documenting the life and culture of those who ride horses to work, labour outdoors, and know what it means when the truck gets stuck in spring gumbo. He regularly tours Canada and around the world and is just as popular with the boots-and-Wranglers set as he is with urban hipsters.

Read more: Alberta government to change restrictions on foothills coal mining to ease development

In his video, Lund talks about the province rescinding coal policy dating from 1976, which made those landscapes off-limits to that kind of development.

“There’s a lot of bad things about it,” he said on Facebook. “It’s scary. I’m spooked.”

Click to play video 'Alberta government to change restrictions on foothills coal mining' Alberta government to change restrictions on foothills coal mining
Alberta government to change restrictions on foothills coal mining – May 26, 2020

Lund, a sixth-generation southern Albertan, points out the area contains the headwaters for freshwater on which millions depend. Coal mining can release selenium, a highly toxic element that is already poisoning watersheds downstream of coal mines in British Columbia.

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Perhaps just as bad is the way the change was made, he said.

“I don’t like how it was done, with seemingly no public consultation of potentially affected parties.”

Click to play video 'Impact of Alberta rolling back open-pit coal mine restrictions' Impact of Alberta rolling back open-pit coal mine restrictions
Impact of Alberta rolling back open-pit coal mine restrictions – Aug 19, 2020

That’s one of the reasons he made the video — to let people know what was happening.

“Not many people know about it. My friends that irrigate in southern Alberta didn’t know about it, and I didn’t know about it until December.”

Lund said his concerns aren’t political.

“I’ve talked to people in three different political parties about this, federal and provincial. I’ve talked to ranchers and farmers. I’ve talked to all sides here.”

He’s met with Alberta Environment Minister Jason Nixon and Energy Minister Sonya Savage.

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“I asked them why this is a good idea. I wasn’t satisfied with the answers,” he said.

“They’re basically asking us to trust them, but I don’t trust anyone on this stuff.”

The Alberta government did not immediately comment.

Read more: Alberta decision to open Rockies to coal mining to face court challenges in new year

Lund said coal mining is not a divisive issue in his circles. People oppose it.

“I haven’t really run into too many people who think it’s a good idea to rip up the mountains and poison the water.”

“I understand (the government is) trying to help the economy, but this is short-term, silly thinking.”

The eastern slopes, where the prairies vault into the spires of the Rocky Mountains, are too close to Alberta’s sense of itself to mess with, he said.

“I’ve travelled a lot. Every time I get off the airplane in Calgary and start driving south, it’s a magical feeling for me. It’s a pretty damn special place and anyone who visits and hasn’t seen it is like, ‘Oh my God.'”

Read more: Coal exploration around southern Alberta parks raises questions about future recreation

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Alberta has a long history of taking shots from entertainment figures who disagree with its environmental policies. The list includes Jane Fonda, James Cameron, Neil Young and Leonardo DiCaprio.

Lund doesn’t want to be added to that folder.

“I live here,” he said. “My family’s been here since the 1800s. It’s different.”

Lund isn’t sure what his next step will be, or if there is a next step.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I’ve always stayed out of current events because I feel I have a different role to play.

“But this one’s such a big deal I just can’t stay out of it.”