The National Farmers Union (NFU) opposes the Alberta government’s decision to rescind forty-four-year-old coal policy protections. With this move, the government is permitting development of open-pit coal mines on the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains. The government proceeded without public consultation. The NFU supports the ranchers, farmers, and First Nations opposed to this environmentally and climate-damaging move.
Four Australian coal companies have proposed six mountaintop removal coal mines, which are now undergoing regulatory approval. More than 50,000 hectares of the Oldman River headwaters are under lease for future mountaintop-removal mining. This watershed sustains the province’s premiere grazing lands, and supplies water to 40% of the province’s irrigated land, along with drinking water to hundreds of thousands of Albertans.
Plans to divert water from this already stressed watershed for use in coal mining, plus the heavy metal and toxic waste contamination inherent to mountaintop removal mines, will threaten food and water security for Albertans, and the livelihoods of farmers and ranchers who have worked tirelessly for generations to conserve the land and water. Canada is a signatory to United Nations Declarations that state that access to safe, clean, healthy water and sanitation is a Human Right, and this decision to undertake environmentally damaging mining is in direct contravention to that obligation.
The grazing allotments of a number of cattle ranches reside within these proposed areas and mining exploration in these allotments has already commenced. These native grasslands are an integral part of cattle ranching operations. Without access to good grazing, the economics of cattle ranching break down. “Anyone who ranches knows that we are grass managers first. Native grasslands throughout Alberta are at risk of extinction. You don’t “replant” native grasslands,” says Laura Laing of Plateau Cattle Company, one of the ranches directly impacted by the decision. “This is going to be detrimental to the sustainability of our operation, and to human and animal health.”
Local ranchers and First Nations have applied to Alberta courts for a judicial review of the process that led to the decision to rescind the coal policy. Laing and her husband, John Smith, along with Mac Blades of the Rocking P Ranch, have filed a joint application with support from Siksika, Kainai, and Bearspaw First Nations who have all applied for intervenor status. Siksika and Kainai First Nations have also filed a second request for a judicial review, and there has been a third request by Whitefish Lake First Nation and Ermineskin Cree Nation.
Foreign-owned coal extraction will not benefit Albertans. The minimal returns to the province in royalties are vastly outweighed by what will be lost. Farming and ranching have long been the heart of Alberta. The NFU calls on the Alberta government to restore the coal policy protections and prioritize a sustainable future for the province’s farming and ranching legacy.
To take action:
For more information:
Julia Smith, NFU First Vice-President (Policy), email@example.com
Toby Malloy, NFU Region 7 (Alberta) Representative, firstname.lastname@example.org
Laura Laing, Plateau Cattle Company, email@example.com