Government’s new coal consultation misses the mark, failing to engage with Albertans on the issues they care about most
March 30, 2021
Yesterday’s announcement from the Government of Alberta launching the consultation process for a new Coal Policy does not address CPAWS Southern and Northern Alberta Chapters’ concerns around coal development in Alberta’s Rocky Mountains. While CPAWS is happy to see that the process will be run by an independent committee, the survey released as part of the consultation is narrowly focused on regulation of coal developments.
“Albertans have been clear that any consultation on the future of Alberta’s Rockies should not just be about where and how new coal mines can be developed, but around the bigger values of the Eastern Slopes as a region and if new coal mines are even acceptable or appropriate anywhere on this landscape,” says Katie Morrison, Conservation Director with CPAWS Southern Alberta.
“Albertans have stated they want more protections for the Eastern Slopes and the majority oppose ongoing exploration and new future mines,” adds Morrison. “The process and outcome of these consultations must accurately reflect the views of Albertans.”
Recent polling by market research firm Leger indicates 76% of Albertans want more protection over more industrial development on the Eastern Slopes of the Rockies.
Minister of Energy Sonya Savage indicated that an initial survey (closing April 19) will serve as an ‘icebreaker’ to more extensive consultations later in the process. However, the questions listed in the survey are limited to coal development and regulation and exclude broader themes of environmental values, wilderness protection, water conservation, recreation, tourism, or treaty rights; all of which are greatly impacted by coal development.
Minister Savage also announced an independent committee has been formed to lead the consultation process moving forward. Our teams have concerns with the lack of representation on the panel, as those who have spoken out most loudly about coal development, including conservationists, grassroots indigenous leaders, ranchers, municipal leaders and recreationists have been excluded.
“Top of mind for many Albertans on this issue have been concerns around long-term, negative environmental impacts coal mine development can have, especially as it relates to our water,” says Chris Smith, Parks Coordinator for CPAWS Northern Alberta. “As such, it is disappointing to see a lack of specific representation from an environmental perspective on this committee.”
The Leger poll also shows that 60% of Albertans do not believe that the Government of Alberta’s public consultation will provide a fair representation of what the public wants regarding coal. CPAWS does not believe that the survey accompanying yesterday’s announcement will help restore any faith in this process.
Public trust has been further eroded by the government’s approval of coal exploration activities in our Rockies, despite clear and strong public pushback and calls for more thorough consultation before any coal exploration or mining moves forward.
Our teams are concerned that these consultations are not being conducted in good faith as long as coal development across the Eastern Slopes of the Rockies continues.
“If the government wants Albertans to trust them and the process they have laid out for consultations, they should be placing a full stop on current coal exploration and mine development activities that are set to occur during the consultation period,” states Smith.
The lack of public trust from Albertans clearly indicates that our provincial government should return to square one and re-evaluate Albertans’ values and whether expanding coal mining is an appropriate move for Alberta moving forward.