CALGARY -- A new survey suggests that a significant number of Albertans are opposed to the provincial government’s move to allow expanded coal mining operations in the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains.

The latest poll, released Monday by public relations firm ThinkHQ, suggests that more than three-quarters of Albertans are aware of the issue.

Among the 1,140 people surveyed from Feb. 2 to Feb. 6, nearly seven-in-ten (69 per cent) oppose expanded development of the formerly protected areas of the province. The poll has a margin of error of +/- 2.9 percentage points.

The report finds that nearly half (49 per cent) strongly oppose the new measures which saw the UCP government, without consultation, rescind Alberta’s 1976 Coal Policy last spring.

ThinkHQ President Marc Henry notes that this survey shows the province is facing increased blowback in revoking the policy which had previously blocked open-pit coal mining on the peaks and eastern slopes of the Rockies.

"This is another example of self-inflicted wounds by the Kenney government, and it’s a dangerous one of them," Henry said.

"Even in a province which is frankly starving for economic development opportunities, the notion of opening previously protected areas of the southeastern Rockies and foothills to more intensive development like coal mining is way off target with most Albertans."

Henry adds that this poll's results are comparable to Albertan’s opposition of the previous NDP government’s introduction of a provincial carbon tax.

City of Calgary not consulted on changes to coal mining policy

City of Calgary administration says it was not consulted on the province’s coal policy changes, which has council potentially considering future actions.

Councillors and Mayor Naheed Nenshi will received a report Monday from administration outlining the watershed impacts of coal mining on the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains.

The city says while the lands in question have no impact on the water quality, Calgary still does have a vested interested in the issue as a steward and manager of the Bow River watershed and South Saskatchewan River watershed.

Coal mining critics add that the resource extraction could potentially introduce high levels of selenium into rivers, impacting the headwaters of the Old Man and Red Deer rivers.

Selenium is a trace mineral that is safe in small doses, but can quickly pose a health hazard to humans in higher quantities. It also leads to deformities and death in fish, including the endangered Westslope Cutthroat Trout.

The report follows a previously approved notice of motion from Ward 13 Coun. Diane Colley-Urquhart, which ordered city administration to look at potential threats to the watershed.

The motion could potentially lead to the city seeking intervener status on the province’s coal mining policy and making a decision as to whether or not to take an advocacy position.

Alberta government to unveil new coal mining policy this week

The province will announce new changes to its coal mining policy this week, according to Energy Minister Sonya Savage.

The UCP government has already cancelled 11 recently-issued coal leases and paused consideration of future leases while it reviews the issue.

Savage notes that consultations on the new policy are possible and the province could seek further input from Albertans.

Premier Jason Kenney noted that Albertans skeptical of mining projects should put more faith in regulators, who would never approve projects that threaten water quality.

Many environmentalist groups, Alberta country music stars and municipal councils of communities downstream, such as Canmore and High River, disagree.

Controversy surrounding Grassy Mountain coal mine

Several landowners have been challenging the government’s decision in court, most notably in relation to the Grassy Mountain coal mine in southern Alberta.

The steel coal mine, proposed by Australian company Benga Mining, is projected to produce 93 million tonnes of coal over the mine’s 23-year lifespan and is expected to create hundreds of Alberta jobs.

Several groups, including the Niitsitapi Water Protectors, call the mine an attack on tradition, culture and livelihood.

"The water and lands within Blackfoot traditional territory is at risk of contamination and destruction due to the incoming open-pit coal mine development projects," the group posted on its Facebook page.

"Open-pit mining will degrade the environment and its life-sustaining gift of clear, clean water. Industry coal projects will cause selenium and other toxic minerals to be released into the headwaters of the Old Man River."

Some First Nations groups are in favour of the project.

On Jan. 21, Chief Stanley Grier of Piikani reiterated his support in a statement.

"Today’s global economy heavily relies on a wide variety of commodities including steel, and as such, there is a strong demand for metallurgical coal. Responsible resource development can create thousands of good-paying jobs, something that our neighbours in surrounding areas have taken advantage of for decades."

The Grassy Mountain coal mine is currently being reviewed by provincial and federal regulators. If approved, construction is scheduled to begin in the fall.