'No exploration or development on the Eastern Slopes': Southern Alberta town takes tough stand on coal
LETHBRIDGE -- High River town council is letting the Alberta government know exactly where it stands when it comes to developing a new, modern coal policy for the province.
The town is proposing an Alberta Coal Restriction Policy that contains three key principles:
- No further coal exploration or development will be permitted on the Eastern Slopes of Alberta. There will no longer be categories within this area and, instead, there would only be one defined today as the Eastern Slopes;
- Existing coal mining operations in the Hinton/Grande Cache areas will be permitted to retire gracefully, and;
- Reclamation of lands disturbed by coal exploration activities with coal exploration permits issued prior to February 8, 2021 must be reclaimed no later than December 31, 2025.
High River Mayor Craig Snodgrass said the inherent value of the Eastern Slopes only exists with the landscape remaining intact.
“You don’t have to look very far away to see the results of coal mining activity and what it does to watersheds,” said Snodgrass.
Town council will be sending a letter to all Alberta municipalities on Wednesday, asking communities to consider supporting their policy proposal, or propose their own ideas that should be presented to the government's Coal Policy Committee, which is spearheading the public consultation process.
Snodgrass said he doesn’t want to get to the point where the province is worried about issues like reclamation, selenium contamination, or the effects on the environment.
“Just don’t let it happen to start with," he said.
On Tuesday, the government quietly released a summary of the results of the Coal Policy Committee’s initial survey. It shows more than two-thirds of survey participants (70%) believe exploiting Alberta coal has a major effect on them.
“Environmental impacts of coal development,” and “if and where coal development takes place” were ranked by respondents as the most important issues when discussing Alberta’s coal policy.
When asked to rate the importance of economic benefits of coal development to Alberta and its communities, more than 64 per cent, answered “not important at all.”
“Even with all of those methodological flaws and tilted questions Albertans clearly said they do not want to see any more coal mines in our Eastern Slopes,” said NDP Environment Critic Marlin Schmidt.
"I would think the government would be wise to listen to them."
"These results strongly suggest that most Albertans don’t want to see coal mining figure anywhere in Alberta’s future,” said AWA conservation director Ian Urquhart.
“They underline emphatically that Albertans don’t want to see coal mining in the Rockies and Foothills and that they don’t have any confidence in the government’s commitment to regulate coal mining in an environmentally responsible manner.”
Of the 24,752 participants in the coal committee’s survey, 91 per cent came from southern or central Alberta.
The AWA says the geographical distribution of the opposition to coal mining should be a political concern for the Kenney government.
“These areas are bedrocks of UCP electoral support,” Urquhart said. “To see such overwhelming, unmitigated opposition to the government’s commitment to promoting the coal mining industry should send shivers down the spines of UCP political strategists.”
Lethbridge West MLA Shannon Phillips said she has heard from hundreds of constituents who have expressed the same concerns that were outlined in the survey.
“Albertans are worried about Jason Kenney and the UCP’s plan to hand over previously protected areas to strip mining in our headwaters,” said Phillips.
“It puts at risk jobs and economic development already. Whether that’s in beef production and processing, crop production and processing, all down the line in the Oldman River Watershed and Highway 3 corridor.”
The office of Alberta Minister of Energy Sonya Savage provided a statement on the survey results.
“The survey provided valuable information for the Coal Policy Committee to consider as they proceed with engagement," it read.
"We encourage all interested parties to participate in the process. This includes plans for the committee to meet with many groups, including municipalities. It is ultimately the committee’s responsibility to gather input, which will inform their recommendations in their final report.
"We will not be making any permanent policy decisions before the engagement process is complete and we have received the results.”
The statement says the government is committed to ensuring Albertans can participate in an open dialogue on the province's long-term approach to coal development.
Snodgrass said his council has looked at the issue, “every way to Sunday,” and determined the risks are far too high for the town to support any kind of future mining activity.
He says the town will collect all of the feedback it receives from other municipalities and report back to the Coal Policy Committee by July 2021.