Surrounded by doctors and representatives from health agencies, Alberta's ministers of environment and health touted their government's plan to phase out all coal-fired power plants within 15 years.

The 18 coal-fired generators in Alberta account for one-third of all sulfur dioxide emissions in the province, said Dr. Joe Vipond of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment.

"As soon as plants close down, we have commensurate decrease in some of those pollutants."

Cutting back on those emissions will reduce asthma attacks and cardiac illness and save millions of visits to emergency departments, the province says. 

The Alberta Medical Association adopted a position in September to lobby the province to end the use of coal as soon as possible. 

But the companies that burn coal to produce more than half the province's power say the plan will hurt the province. 

Alberta already has a very good environmental image, said Robin Campbell, president of the Coal Association of Canada.

The move away from coal will have a negative impact on the province's economy, on mining companies and on miners themselves.

"Of course we're disappointed that the government is taking the position they are on coal-fired generation in the province of Alberta," said Campbell, who served as finance minister under Alberta's former Tory government.

"We're concerned it that will put the province at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to power."

Environment Minister Shannon Phillips said negotiations with industry on the early shutdown of coal-fired plants will begin shortly.

With files from The Canadian Press