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The Coal Hard Facts: What’s Happening with Alberta’s Coal Policy?

Yesterday, the Alberta government made an unprecedented announcement, stating they would reinstate the 1976 Coal Policy. This reinstatement is only a temporary measure as the government brings in consultation on a “new, modern coal policy” that it insists will protect the Eastern Slopes.

While this is a significant win for our movement, we must keep pushing. Now is the time to increase pressure to ensure the protection is complete and not just smoke and mirrors. Together, we can ensure the only viable position for the government to take is: no more coal.

Click to demand the Alberta government halt all coal exploration and ensure full public consultation on the new Coal Policy to fully protect the Rocky Mountains and headwaters.

It would be an understatement to say that the last few months have been a whirlwind for environmental and conservation battles in Alberta. Throughout 2020, numerous organizations, including the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, the Alberta Environmental Network and the Council of Canadians pushed back against an attempt by the provincial government to delist or sell off 164 provincial parks. In response to overwhelming public pressure, the Alberta government quietly announced at the end of December 2020 its decision to discontinue its efforts to pursue partnership or delist provincial parks.

The Alberta government has been facing a similar public battle around their decision to rescind the provincial Coal Policy, which offered protection from coal mining to ecologically sensitive areas along the Eastern Slopes of the Rocky Mountains. Public outrage and action around this decision has been growing. While reinstating the 1976 Coal Policy is a good step, many questions remain unanswered surrounding the impact of this decision on projects already moving forward on the Eastern Slopes, including the Grassy Mountain project. This is a vital moment in our work to ensure the protection of the Eastern Slopes for generations to come.

Where we’ve been: what’s been won

When the government rescinded the Alberta 1976 Coal Policy in June 2020, it may have been shocking to most Albertans but it was not a surprise to industry. According to presentations made by Australian Firm Capital Investment Partners in 2019, the Alberta government was already in the process of changing the coal policy to allow more open-pit mining as early as 2019. This clear corporate influence is horrifying, but not surprising.

Under the 1976 Alberta Coal Policy, open-pit coal mining in Category 2 areas (spaces that are moderate to extremely ecologically sensitive) was not deemed suitable. By rescinding protection to these areas, the Alberta government has given the green light to companies such as Benga Mines to propose and get approval from the province on the Grassy Mountain Coal Development, a 1500 hectare mine located seven kilometers from Blairmore in southwest Alberta.

Additionally, the province announced the sale of 11 new coal leases in the Eastern Slopes in December 2020 – an announcement they quickly reversed in the face of public opposition.  province cancelled those leases in mid-January, seemingly hoping that this would deflate public pressure to end coal mining in the Rockies.

Public outrage still continues to grow. The cancelation of the 1976 Coal Policy, and the potential impacts that coal mines would have on treaty rights, water, wildlife, health and the beautiful landscapes of the Eastern slopes have been met with loud and effective public opposition. 

A number of ranchers and First Nations, including the Bearspaw, Kainai, Siksika, Blood, Ermineshin and Goodfish Lake First Nations have filed requests for a review of the decision to rescind the Coal Policy. The Niitsitapi Water Protectors have launched a successful postcard campaign to demand that the Minister of Environment and Parks reject the Grassy Mountain Coal Project. Over 100K signatures have been collected on petitions opposing the Coal Policy and the Grassy Mountain Project.

Many municipalities across Alberta called on the Alberta Government to reinstate the Coal Policy, and the Alberta government has received tens of thousands of letters from citizens demanding the protection of the Eastern Slopes.

Where we’re going: the work is not done

The provincial government was clearly not expecting the level of backlash they have received, particularly from its traditional supporters.

In her announcement around the reinstatement of the 1976 Coal Policy on Monday, Minister of Energy Sonya Savage noted that the government has heard the concerns of people in Alberta. But there are still many unanswered questions around the decision.

The Council of Canadians will be working over the next months to learn more and share information related to these questions: 

  • How does this announcement impact the six coal projects that continue to move forward on the Eastern Slopes, including the Grassy Mountain project? 
  • Why are disruptive coal exploration activities allowed to move forward in ecologically sensitive areas? 
  • Will the consultation around a new coal policy be meaningful and transparent?

It’s possible that the Alberta government is actually committed to ensuring strong and lasting protection for the Eastern Slopes against coal mining – and we hope they are! Unfortunately, the fact that under current legislation six coal projects are allowed to continue exploration on the Eastern Slopes calls this commitment into question. 

If the Alberta government is serious about protecting the Rocky Mountains and headwaters, these exploration activities need to cease immediately. Protecting the Eastern Slopes means no further coal mining in the Rocky Mountains.

The government will also need to ensure a transparent and meaningful consultation process that recognizes the importance of First Nations voices, concerns and rights on this issue. As the Niitsitapi Water Protectors point out in this release, the government’s apparent attempts at consultation are already excluding First Nations voices and rights.

Now is not the time to let up the pressure on the Alberta government – it’s given us many reasons to doubt its intentions.

Click here to join us in demanding that the Alberta government halt coal exploration. Help us ensure transparent and meaningful consultation around the new Coal Policy to protect the Rocky Mountains and headwaters.

The Edmonton Chapter of the Council of Canadians hosted an Alberta-wide town hall on February 10, 2021 to discuss why it is more important than ever to continue the work to Protect Our Water and Say No to Coal. Watch the recording.