Prairie Post (West Edition)

CPAWS cel­e­brates coal pol­icy change but con­cerns linger

- Canada News · Ecology · Mining · Industries · Alberta · Rocky Mountains

The Feb. 8 an­nounce­ment from the Min­is­ter of En­ergy on the re­in­state­ment of the 1976 Coal Pol­icy is a sig­nif­i­cant step for­ward. This an­nounce­ment is thanks to the tens of thou­sands of Al­ber­tans who raised their voices in op­po­si­tion to open-pit min­ing in the

Rocky Moun­tains and the im­pacts of the rescis­sion of the Coal Pol­icy on our lands and wa­ters. Our teams cel­e­brate this an­nounce­ment and we thank the Govern­ment of Al­berta for lis­ten­ing to the con­cerns of Al­ber­tans.

“We are glad the govern­ment is plan­ning to en­gage in a pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion on the de­vel­op­ment of a new coal pol­icy and we have high ex­pec­ta­tions. Al­ber­tans have clearly stated they want more pro­tec­tions for the East­ern Slopes,” says Katie Mor­ri­son, Con­ser­va­tion Di­rec­tor with CPAWS South­ern Al­berta. “The out­come of th­ese con­sul­ta­tions must ac­cu­rately re­flect the views of Al­ber­tans. It will be very im­por­tant that Al­ber­tans par­tic­i­pate fully in this up­com­ing con­sul­ta­tion to en­sure it ad­dresses all coal min­ing in the Rock­ies.”

Our teams agree the Coal Pol­icy re­quires up­dat­ing. How­ever, hav­ing this pol­icy back in place en­sures some ba­sic pro­tec­tions for eco­log­i­cally sen­si­tive ar­eas of our prov­ince. Given their com­mit­ment to con­sul­ta­tion, it is pre­ma­ture that the Al­berta govern­ment is also stat­ing they are se­ri­ously con­sid­er­ing ex­pand­ing the coal min­ing in­dus­try in the Rock­ies. Any up­dated pol­icy or new leg­is­la­tion needs to re­flect cur­rent re­al­i­ties such as species at risk, cli­mate change, wa­ter scarcity, and the value th­ese land­scapes hold for Al­ber­tans. It is clear that the 1976 Coal Pol­icy, al­though well-con­structed and based on feed­back from Al­ber­tans at the time, is not suf­fi­cient to pro­tect every­thing that Al­ber­tans hold dear to­day.

The Govern­ment of Al­berta’s process in re­scind­ing the Coal Pol­icy last year also re­vealed se­ri­ous con­cerns with trans­parency from our provin­cial govern­ment and we will ex­pect much greater trans­parency go­ing for­ward. It is clear that coal min­ing com­pa­nies knew about the pol­icy rescis­sion long be­fore Al­ber­tans did, al­low­ing them to sub­mit ap­pli­ca­tions be­fore the Coal Pol­icy was re­scinded. Com­pa­nies do not go through the ap­pli­ca­tion process un­less they have some cer­tainty that they can pro­ceed.

“We have se­ri­ous con­cerns about the six projects that are still al­lowed to con­duct ex­plo­ration ac­tiv­i­ties,” says Christophe­r Smith, Parks Co­or­di­na­tor with CPAWS North­ern Al­berta. “Ex­plo­ration ac­tiv­i­ties cause great dam­age to our lands and wa­ters. There are cur­rently hun­dreds of new drill sites and hun­dreds of kilo­me­ters of new roads that are a di­rect re­sult of the re­moval of the coal pol­icy. Al­low­ing th­ese ac­tiv­i­ties to con­tinue is not ap­pro­pri­ate.”

Other projects such as Benga’s Grassy Moun­tain and Mon­tem’s Tent Moun­tain and Chi­nook projects are also not ad­dressed by this an­nounce­ment and will con­tinue to go for­ward in highly sen­si­tive and well-loved ar­eas. There needs to be a full stop on all ex­plo­ration and de­vel­op­ment ac­tiv­i­ties un­til a new lan­duse plan is cre­ated that of­fers more pro­tec­tions to th­ese im­por­tant land­scapes.

The rescis­sion of the Coal Pol­icy and re­lated min­eral ex­plo­ration has brought to light the fragility of the pro­tec­tions af­forded to Al­berta’s East­ern Slopes. The re­sponse from Al­ber­tans has made it clear that Al­berta’s foothills and Rocky Moun­tains are es­sen­tial to Al­ber­tans’ iden­tity and quality of life. The gen­eral pub­lic, In­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties, mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, ranch­ers, and recre­ation­al­ists want to see th­ese ar­eas bet­ter pro­tected. Any new pol­icy, or prefer­ably, leg­is­la­tion, must ad­dress the cu­mu­la­tive im­pacts of all land uses in Al­berta’s East­ern Slopes. Given that re­gional land-use plans are not yet in place through­out the East­ern Slopes, we feel that the Land Use Sec­re­tariat should lead the up­com­ing con­sul­ta­tion process.

“Con­sul­ta­tion brings a wel­come op­por­tu­nity for Al­ber­tans to re-en­vi­sion their ideal fu­ture for Al­berta’s Rocky Moun­tains and foothills – one that bet­ter pro­tects our wa­ter sources, wildlife, and land­scapes that are in­trin­sic to Al­berta’s iden­tity,” says Mor­ri­son.

Our teams at CPAWS North­ern and South­ern Al­berta will con­tinue look­ing into the im­pacts of this an­nounce­ment. In par­tic­u­lar, we will seek more de­tails on which projects can con­tinue with ex­plo­ration ac­tiv­i­ties, what a ban on ‘moun­tain­top re­moval’ min­ing means, and whether or not that ban en­com­passes all sur­face min­ing project de­scrip­tions such as strip min­ing and open-pit min­ing. Go­ing for­ward, our teams hope to see im­proved trans­parency from the Al­berta govern­ment so Al­ber­tans can un­der­stand any new pol­icy be­ing pro­posed, pro­vide their feed­back, and have that feed­back taken prop­erly and rig­or­ously into ac­count.

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