Rose Marie Sackela sees clearly that more needs to be done to raise awareness about coal mining policies in Alberta.
Just two weeks ago, she was at Fish Lake, about an hour west of Rocky Mountain House, and there were plenty of people enjoying the lake and beautiful landscape surrounding the trails. What they didn’t seem cognizant of, was the over 100 coal leases that are active in the west country, closing on that land.
“We need a way for people to understand they are standing right in the middle of solid coal leases,” said Sackela, who has been a citizen activist for the last several years.
Sackela was one of four speakers Friday at an informational rally on coal policy in Alberta, held in front of Red Deer City Hall. The event was put on by the Council of Canadians Red Deer Chapter.
With about 35 people in attendance, chairperson Chris D’Lima said they simply need to keep spreading the word about coal development and the potential impact it will have on the province’s water resources.
“We felt this coal mining issue, hasn’t received a lot of publicity. We really wanted to make the public aware of what exactly is happening,” he said.
Selenium, a dangerous chemical and by-product of coal mining has been found downstream from many major coal mining projects and was a big focus at the rally.
“The biggest issue is the selenium which leaks into the water and rivers and really hazardous to the fish and wildlife, so that’s really important,” said D’Lima.
“Let’s face it, we get people from all over Alberta, who come to see the Rockies, people from all around the world. We want to absolutely ensure that our Rockies are looking as pristine as they always did.”
Red Deer city councillor Dianne Wyntjes, who is also part of the Red Deer River Municipal User Groups and the Red Deer River Watershed Alliance also spoke at the event, stressing the importance of protecting water.
“This industry is one that has potential effect… yes, there’s mitigation and new practices, we acknowledge all that, but how much scrutiny is there? Are the regulations strong enough?… It’s a decision that I stand here today for us, and tomorrow and the future of Alberta,” she said.
The rally came just one day after environmental groups had a huge victory in the southwest portion of the province.
Thursday, the federal-provincial joint review panel released its report on the $800 million Grassy Mountain Coal Project near Crowsnest Pass and recommended that the project not be approved.
The open-pit mine is projected to produce 93 million tons of coal during its 23-year lifespan and create about 500 jobs during construction, including 385 full-time site positions.
The report indicates that the adverse environmental impacts of the project would greatly outweigh any potential economic benefit.
The panel also concluded that the project would result in the loss of lands used for traditional activities by Indigenous peoples and that the project is likely to result in significant adverse effects to physical and cultural heritage for three Treaty 7 First Nations.
A joint statement from Energy Minister Sonya Savage and Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon said the process worked as it should.
“The protection of our lands and water remains of critical importance as we develop our natural resources. Comprehensive land-use planning supports conservation and environmental protection efforts while ensuring our tourism, agriculture, energy and forestry sectors can be developed in a sustainable way,” the statement read.
“The Government of Alberta is committed to responsible resource development. We are continuing the process of widespread public engagement to inform the province’s long-term approach to coal and will have more to say on water quality management in the days ahead.”
In late May, the provincial government also released its preliminary results from a coal mining survey. The results didn’t look good for further development, as a majority of Albertans felt the management of the province’s coal resources affects them and most are concerned about coal exploration.
There were more than 24,000 responses to the survey, including 8,807 from the Central zone.
Nearly 64 per cent of Albertans believe that the economic benefits of coal development are not important to Alberta at all, with 24 per cent ranking it somewhat important and 7.7 per cent saying very important.
Knud Petersen, a former potato farmer, who also spoke in Red Deer summed up the next step for citizens simply.
“It’s our civic duty to fight for clean water,” he said.
“We’ve been taking water for granted forever…the time to push on is now.”