Health coalition wants coal-fired electricity phased out of Alberta

By Marty Klinkenberg, Edmonton JournalSeptember 4, 2013

EDMONTON – A coalition of health organizations is calling on the Alberta government to phase out coal-fired electricity to save lives and cut soaring medical costs.

In what it says is the first campaign of its kind, the Asthma Society of Canada, The Lung Association and Canadian Association of Physicians and the Environment began taking out advertisements on Wednesday that support energy conservation and wind and solar power.

The ads feature a young girl holding an asthma puffer beside a headline that says, “Coal makes her sick,” and says 100 Albertans will die this year from related medical issues.

“Tell Premier Redford you want a coal-free Alberta,” the advertisement says.

The province burns more coal than the rest of Canada combined, and greenhouse gas emissions from its six coal-fired plants are only slightly less than all emissions from oilsands projects.

“It is a serious long-term health concern that we feel we need to draw people’s attention to,” said Beth Nanni, a program specialist with The Lung Association of Alberta and the Northwest Territories. “We hope it starts conversation among government officials.”

The campaign follows a study released in March that said coal emissions contribute to 100 premature deaths and $300 million in medical expenses in Alberta each year. Asthma sufferers miss 4,800 days of work and school and make 700 emergency-room visits in the province annually, the study said.

“The advertisement is another way to remind people why this is important and how it impacts their health,” said Noah Farber, director of communications and government relations for the Asthma Society.

Federal greenhouse gas regulations require conventional coal plants to be phased out over a period of 50 years but the coalition wants them phased out much more quickly in Alberta. Ontario’s coal fleet, which once had a coal fleet the same size as Alberta’s, will be entirely phased out by the end of next year.

“In Ontario, the response has been excellent, in Alberta it’s less so,” said Gideon Forman, executive director of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment. “The province is far more heavily invested in coal.

“But I think we can get the government to come around over time.”

In 2011, coal plants emitted 33 per cent of Alberta’s entire output of sulphur dioxide, 10 per cent of its nitrogen oxides, six per cent of its fine particulate matter and 44 per cent of its mercury.

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