March 30th, 2016 ~ Vol. 85 No. 13
Two environment ministers, two very different views
Crowsnest Pass Herald Front Page
Pass Herald Reporter
On March 23, the former Progressive Conservative environment minister spoke to a small crowd in Elks Hall and said the provincial government should reconsider its plan to phase out 18 coal-fired generators by 2030 because it would devastate the communities that rely on them and substantially increase every Albertan’s power bill.

Robin Campbell, now president of the Coal Association of Canada, said the phase out would put 3,500 Albertans out of work and would indirectly eliminate another 6,500 jobs.

“All we’re doing is putting our children at a disadvantage,” he said.

The provincial Climate Leadership Plan includes specific elements targeting emissions from coal. Campbell said the plan was hastily put together to be ready for recent climate change talks in Paris.

“They put together a plan in a real hurry but they didn’t look at some of the unintended consequences,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with taking a step back, relooking at it and coming up with a better plan rather than going ahead with what they’ve got no matter what. As a matter of fact, I would suggest the public would probably applaud them for that.”

Campbell suggested taking the money from the proposed provincial carbon tax and investing it into newer more efficient technology, which could be sold to developing economies.

“What we have in the carbon fund, take that money and put it back into industry for research,” he said. “If we shut down coal in Canada, it’s not going to make one ounce of difference because the large polluters such as India, China, the United States, Germany, South Africa, Poland are all going to continue to burn coal.”

“With the coal that we have here and with the ability to look at research and technology, we can invest in that and patent it worldwide,” he said. “We could make a change in what’s going around the world in terms of burning coal.”
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Campbell said the early phase-out would double the average Albertan’s electricity bill.

“If we go to renewables there’s just no way we can produce power at the same price as we can with coal,” he said. “If you’re on a fixed income, how do you pay those bills? We’re really concerned about what it’s going to do to the quality of life in Alberta as we know it today.”

He said that he was not a climate change denier and emphasized that he’d served under four premiers and was former Premier Allison Redford’s minister of environment.

Citing a University of Alberta Public Health study, he said coal-fired plants were not negatively affecting air quality in the province.

“I know government,” he said. “I know the climate file, I had it when I was in environment and I know that we can do a better job with the industry. What the industry needs is certainty. Certainty on policy and regulations but right now, what you’re going to see in the province is companies are not coming to invest money right now in Alberta.”

Current environment minister Shannon Phillips disagreed with Campbell.

In a telephone interview, Phillips noted that 12 of the 18 coal-fired power plants are slated for decommissioning under federal coal regulations.

“[Is] Mr. Campbell is suggesting that we break federal law by keeping coal plants that have reached the end of their economic lives?”

Phillips disputed the claim that power bills would double and cited her own figures.

“For all of the costs of the carbon levy at its full implementation in 2018, we would be looking at approximately, for a family of four with average use, [an extra] $500 a year, that’s for gasoline, natural gas and electricity,” she said. “Mr. Campbell is saying things that are categorically wrong. He is deliberately misleading people in order to lobby for an organization that denies the science of climate change and denies the health effects of burning coal for electricity.”

Despite his earlier contention, Phillips also accused the former minister of being a climate change denier.
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“There’s two ways to deny the science of climate change,” she said. “You can outright do it, which has become unfashionable, or you can suggest that we do nothing. That’s what the Coal Association of Canada is doing with Mr. Campbell as their lobbyist.”

Phillips said her government is committed to helping affected communities through the shutdown of coal-fired power plants.

“Let’s be clear that we will be investing in those communities,” she said.
Phillips noted the Alberta Medical Association, the Canadian Lung Association, the Canadian Asthma Association and the United Nurses of Alberta all stood behind the province’s decision for an early phase-out.

“I’m not going to play “he said/she said” with science and with health,” said Phillips. “I think there is a medical consensus here.”

A 2013 report released by a coalition of Canadian health and environmental groups said the health impact costs associated with burning coal for electricity in Alberta were close to $300 million annually.

The study showed that in Alberta each year, the burning of coal contributed to over 4,000 asthma episodes, over 700 emergency room visits for respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses and around 80 hospital admissions. Chronic exposure resulted in nearly 100 premature deaths.
March 30th ~ Vol. 85 No. 13
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