On June 1, 2020, the Alberta government rescinded a decades old Coal Development Policy. It put 1.5 million hectares of formerly protected environmentally significant lands in the Eastern Slopes of the Rocky Mountains of Alberta vulnerable to coal exploration, development and mining.
John Smith and Laura Laing run Plateau Cattle Company just outside of Nanton, AB. It’s a third generation family-owned ranch. The couple is fighting to get the government to change the policy back and get the public to pay attention.
“All I can think of is blood sweat and tears and to have it undone and under threat is hard to fathom,” Smith said.
They’ve been so consumed with worry over the landscapes being carved away and watersheds being destroyed.
“To say we’ve slept in the last six to eight months? We lie awake thinking about it,” Laing said.
“I can imagine my dad and my grandfather rolling over in their graves wondering what the heck is going on here,” Smith said.
The move was made without public consultation.
“The only consultation is with the coal association and coal companies,” Laing said.
“Where is our voice? These are Alberta’s mountains.”
The pair said critics have accused them of being “too emotional” and “anti-resource.”
“I wouldn’t say we are anti-resource, there’s a big difference between a six-inch hole in the ground pumping gas and tearing the top off a mountain,” Smith said.
Smith and Laing also got involved in an initiative ‘Save Our Mountains,’ a mission aimed at reinstating the policy that will protect the land and waters.
When it was announced this past June, Alberta’s Energy Minister said in a statement: “Rescinding the outdated coal policy will help attract new investment for an important industry, and protect jobs for Albertans.”
“The scope of jobs and resources and giveback isn’t worth the risk here,” Laing said.
“We have done our homework and looked at assessments and scientific research from coal companies like Teck, and there’s 93 per cent of the trout diminished because of selenium poisoning.”
Country music star, Corb Lund, felt compelled to speak out after researching the potential toxic impact, poisoning watersheds downstream.
“It’s disgusting and horrific and no one seems to know about it,” Lund said.
“The way selenium gets into the groundwater works is, they blow off the top of the mountain and crush it into smaller rock take that rubble and take it to the next valley over and dump it there. That broken rock has newly opened up surface area which exposes selenium and rain water washes over and leeches into groundwater,” Lund said.
Fellow country legend Paul Brandt posted on Instagram publicly endorsing the opposition. He said:
“Corb Lund 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.”
High River mayor, Craig Snodgrass and his town council have sent a letter of opposition to Premier Jason Kenney, Environment Minister Jason Nixon, Energy Minister Sonja Savage and Livingstone Macleod MLA Roger Reid.
“Rescinding this policy is favorable to the coal industry and that’s why they say we are doing it. Come on? Really? That’s how our government is working in this province?” Snodgrass said.
“It’s the honorable and ethical thing to do, admit to a mistake and rewind it.”
The Coal Association of Canada declined comment. The Alberta Energy Minister’s office also declined comment saying ‘we hope to share something soon.’