Corb Lund says province was forced ‘kicking and screaming’ to halt coal development

Ordinary Albertans who were part of a grassroots movement — not the UCP government — deserve the credit for halting coal exploration and development in the Rocky Mountains, Corb Lund said Tuesday.

But the Alberta country music star warned in an interview while on tour that the work is far from over when it comes to permanently stopping coal mining in the Rockies.

“This is the goal-line stand,” said the sixth generation Albertan who grew up ranching in the foothills. “If they stick coal mines in the Rockies, it’s going to ruin water for a number of river systems. Potentially, it’s going to blow the tops off of mountains and ranchers are going to lose their places, in some cases. Hunting ground is going to be disturbed, fish are going to be messed up for fishermen and most importantly drinking water across the province could potentially be contaminated. It’s just not worth it.”

Lund is a big reason for the success of the grassroots movement, after the province’s decision to repeal the 1976 coal policy on June 1, 2020, was brought to his attention by ranchers in southwestern Alberta.

He took to Facebook on Jan. 12, 2021, imploring his 125,000 followers to speak out on the threat to the Eastern Slopes. That video has been viewed more than 436,000 times.


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. Best Corb Lund Alberta, Canada Resources: #SaveTheMountains

Posted by Corb Lund on Tuesday, January 12, 2021

His efforts included recruiting several of Alberta’s biggest names in country music — Terri Clark, Brett Kissel, Paul Brandt, Sherryl Sewepagaham, Armond Duck Chief, Katie Rox and Brandi Sidoryk (Nice Horse) — to rework his 2009 single This is my Prairie into a protest song.

Lund said coal mining would have drastic effects in the mountains and downstream with increased selenium levels, effectively poisoning the water supply for producers, communities and wildlife.

He points to the Elk Valley Coal mines on the other side of the Rockies in B.C. as a cautionary tale, as they face increasing pressure from Montana and the U.S. on several issues, including selenium levels and a major fish kill in 2019.

The province’s coal report noted the high level of engagement with the public, which included an online survey that received 25,000 responses — about 90 per cent of which were against future coal projects — while a committee held 67 sessions with more than 70 groups and received an additional 176 letters.

“This is people screaming at the government so loudly that they’ve been forced to do this kicking and screaming every inch of the way,” Lund said. “I’m actually really proud of the people here, because it is a very wide political coalition of people and you don’t see that very much these days.”

On Friday, after having the report for more than two months, the province said all future projects in the Rockies would be halted by ministerial order. One major exception was four mines that were already in the regulatory process: Grassy Mountain, which has been rejected by the AER and is now considering an appeals process, Tent Mountain, Vista (Phase 2) expansion and Mine 14.

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Energy Minister Sonya Savage said the ministerial order will remain in place until land-use bylaws could be updated. She said it could take years for the process to be complete.

The announcement does not leave Lund with much confidence.

“In my opinion, when governments make things overly complex, it’s so they can leave themselves loopholes — call me a cynic — but also based on this government’s behaviour around the coal issue from the very beginning, right when they quietly cancelled the coal policy of 1976,” he said.

Corb Lund leads ranchers across the Livingstone River, where it flows near Cabin Ridge, last June.
Corb Lund leads ranchers across the Livingstone River, where it flows near Cabin Ridge, last June. Photo by Mike Drew/Postmedia

“In my opinion, they’ve been deceptive and duplicitous and have been trying to fool the Alberta people all the way along. . . . Unless we slam the door on this thing, our water is going to be in jeopardy and the mountains are going to be in jeopardy.”

The singer says his views are not political — he holds no party membership and says he usually steers clear of politics — neither is he anti-development or anti-fossil fuels. But he said harvesting coal from the Eastern Slopes is a “particularly stupid” idea, especially when it involves foreign mine companies doing the work strictly for export.

“It chaps me when . . . some of the people running this deal aren’t even from Alberta,” said Lund. “They come out here, want to ruin the mountains, ruin the water . . . but this is our province, this is our resource, it’s our water.”

The grassroots movement will continue to push for three main points: No new mines, let existing mines continue until they retire and to clean up the mess.

The last point is not just in regards to mines currently in operation. He said the exploration process has caused a lot of damage to the backcountry as companies cut swaths through previously undisturbed forests and environment in search of deposits.

“A whole bunch of coal mining companies went up and made a hell of a mess in the Rockies,” he said.

Twitter: @JoshAldrich03

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