Changes to Alberta coal policy coming next week after province-wide outrage

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Changes to Alberta coal policy coming next week after public uproar
WATCH: The Alberta energy minister’s office is revealing that news on the government’s coal policy is expected next week. This comes after much public backlash to recent changes, and on the heels of an in-depth Global News series on mining. Jill Croteau has the latest – Feb 5, 2021

The Alberta government plans to release news next week to restore at least some aspects of a coal policy it revoked last spring, a move that has provoked provincewide protest.

Government spokesman Kavi Bal said in an email that some of the restrictions in the old policy that protected the Rocky Mountains from coal mining will be restored.

Specifics are still being worked out, Bal said.

“We continue to engage with Albertans on this matter and expect to have more to say in the near future,” Bal said.

A number of communities in Alberta have expressed their concerns with the plans to attempt to expand coal mining.

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On Monday, Turner Valley approved a letter asking the province to issue a stop-work order on coal exploration and to restore previous protection on the eastern slopes.

Click to play video: 'Elk Valley property owner speaks out about coal mining'
Elk Valley property owner speaks out about coal mining

Canmore passed a similar motion the next day.

At least eight communities are upset with the government’s decision, including the city of Lethbridge.

The towns of High River and Nanton and the counties of Ranchlands and Foothills have all expressed concerns. The City of Calgary has planned debate on the issue.

High River Mayor Craig Snodgrass had a meeting Thursday with Energy Minister Sonya Savage.

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“If there’s one person through all of this I have trust in it is Minster Savage,” Snodgrass said.

But he insists it’s not the time to ease off the pressure.

“She was forthcoming, saying something is going to be happening next week. She didn’t give us any clarity on what that was. I was encouraged by the fact the answer wasn’t no,” Snodgrass said. “But we are a long ways from the finish line.”

Click to play video: 'Mining companies knew about coal policy removal long before Albertans'
Mining companies knew about coal policy removal long before Albertans

Snodgrass said exploration should be halted while the policy is reconsidered.

“We have to be careful how the province will wordsmith this. Surface mining, strip mining, mountain top removal, we need the definitions of what that looks like,” Snodgrass said. “I think what’s very clear is we don’t want any of that. Albertans are clear, you don’t touch our mountains period.”

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David Luff, former provincial assistant deputy minister, was in that same meeting.

“I found the minister to be cautious and receptive,” Luff said. “She said they were listening and realized some of the changes were probably not where they should have gone.”

Luff said he hopes the government stops all coal exploration while the discussions continue.

“The words are great, but we will see what comes next week and what actions are,” Luff said. “If the government will not consult with public around drafting a new policy, that action will indicate government has their own pre-determined road.”

High River resident Terry Grant, known as the “Mantracker,” for a popular reality show, has spent countless hours in the wilderness and is against coal exploration in the Rockies.

“I’ve had the pleasure of riding around Canada and everywhere I’ve gone, I’ve compared it to here,” Grant said.

High River resident Terry Grant, known as the “Mantracker,” for a popular reality show. Jill Croteau, Global News

When he’s not in the backcountry, Grant is woodworking in his garage. He’s blunt about not wanting foreign coal companies developing nearby and is skeptical about the province’s looming plans on the policy.

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“It’s going to be a never ending pile of garbage after these guys stick one shovel in the ground because we can’t get rid of them then,” Grant said. “We don’t want Australia to come here in the first place, the welcome mat was put out at the wrong time and we need to pull that back in.

“This new policy is going to be just another distraction to let them try to make us believe are are gaining.”

Meanwhile, Saskatchewan’s Opposition New Democrats are expressing concern over their western neighbour’s goal to expand coal mining.

Environment critic Erika Ritchie says increased development could contaminate water in the South Saskatchewan River which flows through the province.

Click to play video: 'Environmental groups warn Alberta about Elk valley coal mine contamination'
Environmental groups warn Alberta about Elk valley coal mine contamination

The government policy that protected the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains was revoked last spring without warning. Since then, hundreds of thousands of hectares have been leased for exploration. Kilometres of roads and hundreds of drill sites have also been approved.

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– With files from the Canadian Press

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