Government of Alberta’s new plan provides temporary relief from the risk of coal
March 11, 2022
ᐊᒥᐢᑲᐧᒋᐊᐧᐢᑲᐦᐃᑲᐣ amiskwacîwâskahikan (Edmonton), AB – On Friday March 4th, after nearly two years of collective public concern regarding the fate of the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains, the Government of Alberta released the Coal Policy Committee’s reports, and announced a new plan for coal in the province.
The Minister of Energy announced that all coal exploration and development will be halted across the Eastern Slopes in all four coal categories, including categories that were previously open to coal development in the 1976 Coal Policy, until the completion of regional land use planning. Final decisions on where coal exploration and development can proceed will be deferred to land use planning process. Additionally, four ‘advanced’ proposals – Grassy Mountain, Tent Mountain, Vista Expansion and Mine 14 were exempted from these restrictions.
The removal of the 1976 coal policy caused a surge in destructive coal exploration in sensitive areas across the Rocky Mountains and the opened the possibility of coal mine development. Now, thanks to tens of thousands of Albertans, and the comprehensive work of the coal policy committee, we are no longer facing the immediate threat of expanded coal mining in our sensitive headwaters. The teams at CPAWS Northern and Southern Alberta have let out a temporary sigh of relief and thank Albertans for their dedication in getting the government to this point.
However, while land-use planning is long overdue, we do not need to go through land use planning to understand that there is no place on the eastern slopes that is appropriate for coal. Albertans have already been abundantly clear about this, as referenced in the committee’s ‘Engaging Albertans About Coal’ report. The recent announcement to re-instate the 1976 policy and push the decision to individual land use plans was a missed opportunity to address the environmental risks and prohibit coal permanently through a new legally enforceable Coal Policy or legislation. Such policy or legislation prohibiting coal across the entire region would provide the overarching direction for the future of coal, and would be incorporated into future land use plans
In the absence of clear direction, we have concerns regarding the Government of Alberta’s commitment to integrate coal activities into integrated resource plans, and sub-regional plans. It is still unclear what level of planning will be used, how Albertans will be engaged in the process and how the final decision will be made. It is possible that coal development could be re-allowed at that time.
Given the government’s current direction we hope that when land use plans are developed for these regions, they consider the concerns raised by tens of thousands of Albertans over the past two years, and incorporate the comprehensive research and submissions made to the committee. Land use planning activities must also meaningfully include First Nations and grass roots Indigenous groups in the planning process. We continue to be concerned about the impacts of the four ‘advanced’ mines on the Eastern Slopes. CPAWS Northern and Southern Alberta would like to see the recommendations and restrictions made apply to them as well and will continue to stay engaged in their individual mine applications.
CPAWS Northern and Southern Alberta are appreciative of the immense amounts of work that organizations, Indigenous Communities, experts and individuals put into the Coal Policy Committee’s engagement and the thousands of Albertans who continue to let the government know that coal has no future in the Rocky Mountains. The results of the coal policy committee’s engagement, and the resources published and shared online will form a solid foundation for the consideration of coal development and land use planning.
While this announcement represents a current win for our eastern slopes, we have many remaining questions, and continue to be concerned with the lack of certainty and long-term protections of our eastern slopes.
We continue to review the report recommendations and feedback from Albertans and will be identifying key gaps and next steps to ensure we can collectively continue to advance protection of the Eastern Slopes.
The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society
The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) is Canada’s only nationwide charity dedicated solely to the protection of our public land and water and ensuring our parks are managed to protect the biodiversity within them. Over the last 50+ years, CPAWS has played a lead role in protecting over half a million square kilometres – an area bigger than the entire Yukon Territory. Our vision is to protect at least half of our public land and water so that future generations can experience Canada’s irreplaceable wilderness.
CPAWS has chapters in almost every province and territory across Canada, and two chapters here in Alberta – a Southern Alberta chapter located in Calgary and a Northern Alberta chapter located in Edmonton. As a collaborative organization, CPAWS works closely with government of all levels, industry representatives, and communities to manage our impact on a shared landscape. We also advocate for the creation of parks and protected areas for the benefit of both current and future generations of Canadians.