National Post (National Edition)
Open-pit coal mining in Rockies killed
CALGARY• The Alberta government is reinstating the 1976 coal mining policy it revoked last spring after public outcry. The four categories for where and how coal leasing, exploration and development could occur in the Foothills and Rocky Mountains are back in place and future coal exploration approvals on sensitive lands will be prohibited until the government does consultations on a new coal policy, Energy Minister Sonya Savage announced Monday.
The reversal comes after growing public pressure including from country singer Corb Lund and from multiple towns within the region, as well as a court challenge.
“What we're doing today, keeping the 1976 coal policy in place and committing to consult on a modernized policy, is what we should have done in the beginning. We didn't do it then but we're going to do it now,” Savage said.
The 1976 policy, brought in by Peter Lougheed's government, was ended by Savage in June. At the time the government said the policy was outdated and redundant.
“We intended to manage coal on an equal footing with other mineral resources, like oil and gas. We felt that this would streamline regulatory matters, and provide more certainty for governments and stakeholders,” Savage said.
“However, Albertans' views are clear. They expect us to manage coal differently.” The province said no new exploration leases will be sold on so-called Category 2 land, the most environmentally sensitive areas not already included in national or provincial parks. It also specifically bans coal surface mines on Category 2 land.
“That means that the 1976 coal policy did not preclude coal lease exploration. And it also means that putting it back won't necessarily end exploration. Further, reinstating this policy does not affect current coal exploration, and mining on any other categories of land.”
Companies with current exploration permits may continue their work. But officials said Alberta's energy regulator has been instructed not to allow any new mountaintop removal mines. The reinstated policy bans surface mines where that exploration is taking place.
Six companies currently hold exploration permits.
The government said public consultations on the future direction of coal mining in the province are to take place later this year. Details are expected soon.
The government had been criticized for not consulting with the public prior to deciding to end the 1976 policy. Now Savage says details of a consultation period will be released in the weeks ahead.
“It will be lengthy, it will hear the input of all Albertans on all views related to coal. We want to take the time and get this right and hear Albertans and decide what the next steps are,” she said.
Small-town councils in the province's southwest almost all opposed the dramatic expansion of the industry, especially since they were not consulted. Ranchers feared industry's impact on their grazing lands and First Nations worried about effects on their traditional way of life.
NDP Opposition Leader Rachel Notley said details on how consultation will go ahead will be crucial. “There must be new and current science. It must be shared publicly. There must be meaningful engagement with Indigenous people.