Phase out of coal powered electricity big win for Canadian health: Calgary doctor

Move will have ‘substantial impact’ on human health, Dr. Joe Vipond says

Dr. Joe Vipond

Calgary emergency room doctor Joe Vipond has been working for years to raise awareness about the negative impact that burning coal has on people's health. (CBC)


A Calgary doctor is applauding the federal government's decision to phase out coal-fired power plants by 2030, saying it will have a "substantial impact" on human health.

Pollution from Alberta's coal-fired power plants is estimated to cost the health-care system nearly $300 million each year and leads to nearly 100 premature deaths, studies show.

"There's nitrogen oxides, there's sulphur dioxides … and of course there's mercury which is really dangerous for the neurodevelopment of fetuses," Dr. Joe Vipond told the Calgary Eyeopener.

Although the Alberta NDP promised last year to phase out coal-powered electricity, Vipond says the federal move will help seal the deal forever.

"Let's be honest, it's going to backstop the closure here so that a new government can't come in and just change the law."

Catherine McKenna

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna outlined the government's plan to phase out coal by 2030 during a news conference in Ottawa on Monday, Nov. 21, 2016. (CBC)

Vipond, a member of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, was actually preparing to lobby politicians about the issue in Ottawa on Monday when the announcement was made.

"We were there to try to convince them that this was a good thing and then they kind of scooped us," Vipond said.

The emergency room physician has has been working for years to raise awareness about the "incredible amount of pollutants" released into the air when coal is burned for electricity generation.

While those pollutants impact all Albertans, Vipond says the risk is higher for people living in and around Edmonton, where there are 12 coal-fired plants "just upwind."

Coal communities face 'hardship'

The president of the Coal Association of Canada is disappointed with the federal announcement, saying the move will affect as many as 45,000 direct and indirect jobs.

"Anytime you're taking coal out of the energy mix, you're putting a hardship on coal miners and communities which support the mines," said Robin Campbell.


Former Environment Minister Robin Campbell now serves as president of the Coal Association of Canada. (Erin Collins/CBC)

He said U.S. president-elect Donald Trump's plan to revitalize America's coal industry could put added pressure on the industry.

"If the United States can continue to provide affordable reliable power and we can't in Canada, it's going to cause some concerns in the investment community about where you're going to put your dollars."

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener

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