An updated and abbreviated timeline on Coal in Alberta
Even though it’s been nearly three years since the whole debacle on new coal mining in the Rocky Mountains started – the shadow of coal over Alberta’s Eastern Slopes has not gone away.
One year ago, in response to massive public pushback, and the conclusion of the government-appointed Coal Policy Committee, the Minister of Energy announced that a ministerial order prohibiting coal development (except for four mines) is still in place until land use plans are complete.
While this – sort of – halted the problem, it is not a permanent solution.
Let’s reflect on how we got here – and where we need to be!
Helpful Definitions and terms
May 15 2020
On Friday afternoon of the May long weekend, the Minister of Environment and Parks announced that the Government of Alberta was rescinding the 1976 Coal Policy, with no public consultation, effective June 1st.
June 1 2020
The 1976 Coal Policy is officially terminated, opening 1.5 million hectares of sensitive lands within the headwaters of Alberta’s major watersheds for potential coal exploration and development. No land-use management plan is put in its place.
July 15 – September 15 2020
Applications are approved and leases are granted for 240,000 hectares of sensitive, former Category 2 lands on the Eastern Slopes. Over 100,000 ha of lease applications are granted in Clearwater County (specifically in the Bighorn Backcountry) where the source waters for the City of Edmonton, and much of central Alberta and Saskatchewan come from.
New leases are issued adjacent to the popular recreation destinations of Goldeye Lake, Fish Lake, and Crescent Falls. Eleven new leases are sold to Montem Resources and Benga Mining Ltd.
January 18 2021
The Government of Alberta pauses sales in former Category 2 lands and cancels the 11 recent coal leases from the December 2020 auction – however, these leases account for only 0.2% of the area that had already been leased.
February 8 2021
The policy is reinstated, but the damage is done. The 1976 Coal policy is reinstated, but all leases issued since June 1, 2020, remain in place (other than the 11 cancelled in January). Category 3 and 4 lands of the Eastern Slopes remain open for coal exploration and development.
CPAWS launches a letter campaign and over 11 000 letters were sent. CPAWS and others call for a complete halt to ALL coal exploration in the region until Albertans decide the future of these landscapes. CPAWS creates a letter-writing tool to help others demand a complete stop as well.
March – April 2021
The Government of Alberta appoints the Coal Policy Committee and launches a consultation. CPAWS Survey reveals that 76% of Albertans are in favour of more protections for nature and recreation in the Eastern Slopes. The Government of Alberta launches an online survey for public engagement on the next steps of coal development. The survey reveals that 90% of the nearly 25 000 respondents feel there are areas that are NOT appropriate for coal exploration and development.
The Coal Policy Committee recommendation reports are delayed. The Coal Policy Committee was tasked with preparing two reports: one would summarize what they heard from stakeholders and the other, their recommendations on how to proceed with coal in the province to the Government of Alberta. The anticipated deadline for these reports was December 2021 but was delayed until 2022.
Reports from the Coal Policy Committee are released and we have a temporary win for coal.
The Government of Alberta releases the reports from the Coal Policy Committee. Most of the feedback to the committee is firmly against new coal mine development. The committee’s recommendations include the development of a new modernized coal policy that considers cumulative effects, that all leases issued after the rescission of the 1976 coal policy (June 2020) be revoked, and that no new coal mine exploration or development be allowed on lands without a land use plan. (Spoiler: there are no land use plans in Alberta’s eastern slopes that address coal)
As a result of these recommendations, Albertans got temporary relief from the threat of coal. The Minister of Energy announced a moratorium on all coal exploration and development 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.
Four ‘advanced’ proposals – Grassy Mountain, Tent Mountain, Vista Expansion and Mine 14 were exempted from these restrictions. Meaning, there are avenues through which coal could proceed in the province.
A Community Coal Policy is released.
The mayor of High River announces his endorsement of a community coal policy named “A Coal Policy for Alberta – 2022 and beyond”. The policy is a vision of what a new coal policy could look like for the province. It was co-written by community members and many organizations that were involved in the committee’s stakeholder process.
September 2022 – December 2022
Environment and Climate Change Canada started the process of developing coal mining effluent regulations (CMER) that would manage the effluent — liquid industrial waste — for all existing and future coal mines in Canada. The last draft of these regulations set effluent limits based on industry’s technical and economic feasibility rather than what is safe for freshwater ecosystems – placing further doubt on the future of Alberta’s Rocky Mountains.
Over 3000 letters were sent urging for regulations and effluent release standards that would be based on what was environmentally safe and not based on what companies could achieve.
Today – March 2023
There is NO policy that prohibits coal development and exploration on Alberta’s landscapes. Most leases remain in the eastern slopes, and some projects in central/northern Alberta have been permitted to move forward. Albertans do not have a sense of certainty that their headwaters are protected from the threat of coal.
Take Action Today
Albertans have made it clear that we don’t want coal development in our Eastern Slopes, and we don’t need land-use planning to make that decision.
CPAWS believes that there should be overarching policy or laws prohibiting coal mining such as the Coal Policy for Alberta – 2022 and beyond. This will provide certainty to people about the security of Alberta’s Eastern Slopes and prevent coal from overshadowing all other land uses in the regional planning process.
- An overarching coal policy prohibiting mine development in the headwaters is needed so that regional land use planning in the future does not allow new mines.
- The current moratorium on new coal mine development is not permanent and does not provide the security this sensitive landscape needs
- Land use planning is essential across the province; however, Albertans have been clear that no areas of the eastern slopes are suitable for destructive open pit coal mining, and land use planning is a slow process