We admit we didnt get this one right

‘We admit we didn’t get this one right’ r1 ... Subscribe to this newsletter narwhal logo BECOME A MEMBER Rancher John Smith on the Mount Livingstone Range grazing allotment
Greetings Narwhals,

It’s your bitterly cold Alberta reporter checking in from Edmonton. I hope your week has been quieter than mine. Because, let me tell you, there’s a lot going on in Wild Rose Country.

Remember that whole coal mining controversy? Well, bit of an update:

“We admit we didn’t get this one right. We’re not perfect and Albertans sure let us know that.”

Those remarks, delivered by Minister of Energy Sonya Savage on Monday, came as the government finally fell on its mountain-sized sword.

Need a refresher? I got you. Last May — on a Friday afternoon before a long weekend — Alberta’s United Conservative Party government quietly announced it was rescinding a policy that dated back to 1976.

It said the policy, which effectively prohibited surface coal mining along much of the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains, was “no longer required.” But Premier Jason Kenney underestimated the passion of Albertans.

What followed was a months-long backlash from people of all political stripes and walks of life, from country music stars to conservation enthusiasts to downstream First Nations communities to ranchers.

Polls suggested nearly 70 per cent of Albertans opposed the planned coal expansion.

When I called Melanee Thomas to ask for her take on what transpired, the associate professor of political science at the University of Calgary told me the reversal “felt a little bit like whiplash.”

“It is so decidedly against how this government regularly operates.”

Alberta’s current government is no stranger to engaging in public showdowns, whether it’s with teachers, rural doctors or hospital support staff. It’s also not typically known for backing down.

And so you can be forgiven for wondering: what made this scuffle any different?

Well, we’re talking about the iconic Rocky Mountains.

The region is home to deposits of metallurgical coal, used in steelmaking. It’s also home to threatened wildlife species, the headwaters for much of the province’s drinking water, lands important to First Nations communities, popular recreation destinations and grazing lands long used by ranchers.

“One wouldn't have to work very hard to be able to identify that this is core to Alberta's identity,” Thomas told me.

It all added up to create a tinderbox of outrage unlike any the province had seen in recent memory.

“This mobilization is unprecedented,” Laurie Adkin, a political science professor at the University of Alberta, said in an interview. “I cannot think of any example in Alberta's history where this kind of coalition has come together and on this scale.”

Despite the about-face, recently approved coal leases and exploration programs, along with the application for the Grassy Mountain coal project, are still set to proceed. The coalition may find its work isn’t done quite yet.

Take care and take a trip back to ’76,

Sharon J. Riley
Alberta investigative reporter
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Note from a Narwhal Drawing of a narwhal by Kateari Our day got a little brighter at The Narwhal when we received this drawing of our namesake from 7-year-old Kateari in Alberta. Kateari was inspired to draw this piece after she heard about how The Narwhal dives deep to seek answers about impacts to our natural world — and our children’s future.

We hope Kateari’s artwork brightens your day, too. And, in case you missed it, you can go here to look at all the lovely submissions from our narwhal art contest last summer.
BECOME A NARWHAL This week in The Narwhal

B.C.’s old-growth forest nearly eliminated, new provincewide mapping reveals

Conservation North director Michelle Connolly stands in forest By Sarah Cox

As old-growth logging continues unabated in most unprotected areas of B.C., one conservation organization decided to spend a year creating a detailed map that shows the province’s original forests have all but disappeared under pressure from industrialization. Read more.

How the Kudz Ze Kayah mine is stoking tensions between Canada, Yukon and First Nations

The Pelly Mountains near Ham Creek, Yukon By Julien Gignac
Ottawa has ordered Yukon to reassess the impacts of a proposed mine on caribou and First Nations Rights, a move Premier Sandy Silver says undercuts the territory’s authority: “local decisions should be made by local governments.” Read more.

B.C.’s ‘dirty secret’: more than 100 contaminated mine sites threaten water, wildlife and communities

The decommissioned Bell mine in northwest B.C. By Matt Simmons
New research finds lax provincial regulations allow companies to discharge toxic wastewater with metal concentrations hundreds of times higher than what’s considered safe for aquatic life. Read more.

What we’re reading Globe and Mail article: How environmental pressure is shaking up the mining industry – and will soon reshape it new york times article: Before Himalayan Flood, India Ignored Warnings of Development Risks dog walking backward through pet screen door gif When you’re walking back a contentious decision. Tell your friends they can do the right thing by signing up for our newsletter. r33

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