Public opposition to the Alberta government’s plan to expand coal mining in the Rocky Mountains is growing with tens of thousands of people signing petitions, writing letters and joining online groups.
“It just grows like a prairie fire,” said Laurie Adkin, a University of Alberta political scientist who is tracking the campaigns opposing the mines.
“I’ve never seen anything in Alberta like this.”
More than 100,000 signatures had been collected by Monday on two petitions opposing the United Conservative government’s move on two related fronts.
One, sponsored by environmental groups on Change.org, is addressed to the provincial government and asks it to reconsider a decision revoking a policy that protected the foothills and the Rockies from coal mining. That petition had 77,000 signatures Monday afternoon — an increase of about 10,000 over the weekend.
Another, sponsored by a private citizen and addressed to federal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, had nearly 28,000 names opposing the Benga coal project in southern Alberta, which is undergoing a federal-provincial environmental review.
Adkin said that group had 4,100 signatures less than two weeks ago.
Alberta’s Environment and Parks Department did not respond to a request for comment.
Petitions aren’t the only places people are expressing concern
A Facebook site called Protect Alberta’s Rockies and Headwaters has more than doubled its membership over the last week to more than 10,000.
The Benga review has received more than 4,000 statements of concern from members of the public. Adkin, who reviewed more than 1,000 of them, said about 98 per cent opposed the development.
Members of the Blood Tribe in southern Alberta have mounted a postcard campaign against both Benga and the removal of the coal policy. More than 700 postcards have been sent to Wilkinson asking him to block any coal development in the Rockies and another 2,000 have joined an online group to that end, said organizer Latasha Calf Robe.
Calf Robe said that while some southern Alberta chiefs support mines, people in the communities haven’t been consulted.
“Most First Nations have never heard about these projects until the last couple weeks here,” she said.
“No conversations have been happening with the memberships in these areas. There are real concerns that need to be assessed.”
The province’s Opposition New Democrats have also started a petition that has garnered nearly 2,900 names in a week.
“The trajectory is nearly doubling day over day, sometimes more than doubling,” said spokesman Matt Dykstra.
Edmonton New Democrat MP Heather McPherson has received hundreds of calls on the issue, a spokeswoman said.
“Albertans do not support opening the eastern slopes for coal exploration and development,” McPherson wrote in a letter to Wilkinson.
“The (former provincial government under Peter) Lougheed spent six years in community consultations leading up to the coal policy that banned development in the eastern slopes in 1976. In contrast, Albertans and the Indigenous people living in Alberta were not consulted when the Kenney government reversed this ban.”
Meanwhile, government documents have surfaced showing three more recreation areas in the mountains and foothills are now surrounded or mostly surrounded by mine exploration leases sold since the coal policy was rescinded. That brings the total to at least eight.
The three areas are in the central foothills west of Red Deer: Crescent Falls, Fish Lake and Goldeye Lake.
All three are accessible and popular and feature in the area’s tourism promotion.