From Minister of Environment to the Coal Association of Canada

Last year, Robin Campbell served as Alberta's Environment Minister. This year, he's the head of the Coal Association of Canada. We ask him how he was able to make the transition, and what it says about the relationship between environment and the energy industry.
Robin Campbell as Alberta Environment Minister, in 2014. (CBC)

The Coal Association of Canada has a new president. Its leader is tasked with promoting the controversial industry, which is often criticized for its greenhouse gas emissions and the toll it takes on human health.

Given these concerns, some may be surprised to learn that the Coal Association's new head is Robin Campbell, Alberta's former Environment Minister. 

But Campbell argues that his new role is not as big a leap as some may think. 

The full interview is available in the audio player above. The following portions have been edited for clarity and length

You've gone from being Alberta's steward of the environment, to being the voice of an industry that many critics consider the greatest threat to the environment. How do you comfortably make that transition?

Probably people don't realize, but I spent almost 30 years in the coal industry. I'm a fourth generation miner. And before I became involved in politics, I was involved in the mining operations out in Hinton, Alberta. The coal industry has been very good to my family. It provided me with a livelihood. It provided me with the opportunity to put food on the table, a roof over our heads, and put my kids through school. So for me, in some ways, it's the ability to give a little bit back to the industry. And also, the coal industry has done a very good job of managing the resource, and doing it in a responsible and environmentally-friendly way. And I think that with the new technologies that are out there, that there is a future for coal.

How is coal environmentally-friendly? Make that case for us. 

There's things that we can do as far as cleaning the coal. There's new technologies coming out for carbon capture and storage. Actually there is a project in Saskatchewan, that I am going to down to look at here shortly, that has been fairly successful. 

Everything I've been hearing is that it's not working at all. 

Everybody has their opinions. There's people that are not going to agree to anything that industry does. But my job will be to work with industry and to continue to show that we have an important contribution to make to the province. 

There's two ways of looking at your new job. We could look at it cynically, and say: what does it tell you about Alberta that their former Environment Minister is now working for a coal lobby group? Or you could look at it hopefully: the Coal Association has hired a former Environment Minister as their president - maybe they're serious about cleaning up their act. How would you like us to look at it? 

I'd like to look at it that I bring to the table 30 years of mining history. When you look at my record as Environment Minister, we were starting to do some very good things in that file. I'm an outdoorsman. I like to fish. I understand the beauty of the outdoors. I understand the importance of it for quality of life. And I think that that balance can be reached. 

Click the blue button above to listen to the full interview.


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