Dead letter: something that has lost its force or authority without being formally abolished – Merriam Webster
On Feb 3, 2021 Jason Kenney said he rescinded Lougheed’s coal policy which blocked open-pit mining on the eastern slopes and the Rockies because it was “a dead letter.”
He said the eastern slopes and the Rockies would be protected under existing regulations and all this public outrage was fueled by condescending city-folk who had it in for rural folk who were simply trying to put food on the table.
Two days later his energy minister, Sonya Savage, was thrust into the limelight to clean up Mr Kenney’s mess. (This is becoming standard procedure in Kenneyland).
Ms Savage said the government would issue a new coal policy this week because her government had no intention of changing “any of the restrictions or any of the protections in the eastern slopes” when the Lougheed coal policy was rescinded.
Apparently the “dead letter” wasn’t so dead after all. It actually preserved our mountains and protected our environment and our water. All it took was thousands of Albertans protesting for months in the middle of the pandemic to convince Mr Kenney of this fact.
Mr Kenney insists the Lougheed coal policy is unnecessary because the existing regulations will protect our mountains and environment.
Let’s borrow one of the regulator’s tools, a process known as Information Requests (IRs) test the rationale Mr Kenney has offered in support of his position.*
IR#1: Mr Kenney, you say coal mining is the “lifeblood of several Alberta communities and employs thousands of Alberta workers.” Please identify the “Alberta communities” referred to and confirm or correct Stats Canada data that says there were 2,985 coal mining jobs in Alberta at the peak of the industry and only 1,542 jobs today.
IR#2: You indicate coal will be developed “responsibly under strict regulatory standards and processes” that protect “air, land, water, and wild species from harm.” Please identify which regulatory standards and processes you are referring to and explain how they prevent harm as effectively as the Lougheed coal policy which stopped open pit coal mining all together.
IR#3: You indicate “scientists, not politicians, make the environmental decisions.” Please advise whether Cabinet can override the Regulator if the Regulator rejects a mining application for environmental reasons?
IR#4: You suggest the world is not moving away from coal. Please rationalize your position with the fact mining giants like Rio Tinto, BHP, Vale, and Teck have or are in the process of unloading their coal assets and Blackrock, the world’s largest financial manager ($8.7 trillion) warned that any company that fails to speed up its transition to a clean economy will be flagged for “potential exit” because they present risk to Blackrock’s clients’ returns.
IR#5: Please explain how land reclamation and environmental regulations will protect mountain landscapes after they have been destroyed by decades of open-pit mining.
IR#6: Please explain how you will enforce the regulations referred to in IR#5 if a coal mining company becomes insolvent.
IR#7: Please explain why public consultation pursuant to the AER process is sufficient to ensure all Albertans have been consulted on opening up the eastern slopes and the Rockies to open-pit mining when not all Albertans meet the AER requirement that they be “directly affected” by a specific project. Will you amend the law to make province-wide consultation mandatory before any coal mining project may be filed with the regulator?
IR#8: Please explain why you said the Lougheed coal policy was a “dead letter” when the coal industry and investors in coal companies specifically highlighted the coal policy as a roadblock to open-pit mining and lauded your government for working to change the policy.
IR#9: Energy minister Savage said mountain top mining was a no-go. Please define “mountain top mining” and confirm it includes surface mining, strip mining, mountain top removal, and any other activity that touches those parts of the eastern slopes and the Rockies that were protected under the Lougheed coal policy.
IR#10: Please advise whether your government will engage in a province-wide consultation before it implements the new coal policy. Please confirm whether the government will reinstate the Lougheed coal policy until such consultation is complete.
IR#11: Please comment on statements like the one made by Mantracker star, Terry Grant, who said the new coal policy would be a “stream of garbage” and “another distraction” to create the impression the government has addressed the public’s concerns.
These IRs are not as rigorous as real IRs, however they illustrate the point that Albertans deserve more than a hastily stitched together “replacement” policy and a quick pat on the head that everything will be okay.
The right thing for Mr Kenney to do is to reinstate the Lougheed coal policy. Anything less demonstrates an appalling lack of respect for Albertans and the province they love.
So going back to the definition of “dead letter” – something that has lost its force or authority without being formally abolished – perhaps the real dead letter here isn’t the Lougheed coal policy but the Kenney government.
*Mr Kenney’s position is drawn from his public comments and the Coal Hard Facts brochure.