CALGARY -- The Government of Alberta will reinstate its 1976 coal policy after concerns were raised regarding surface mining in the Eastern Slopes.

The province had revoked the policy in 2020.

"Albertans have spoken loud and clear and we have heard them," said Energy Minister Sonya Savage in a statement. "Not only will we reinstate the full 1976 coal policy, we will implement further protections and consult with Albertans on a new, modern coal policy. Alberta’s government is absolutely committed to protecting the majestic Eastern Slopes and the surrounding natural environment."

According to Savage, a directive has been issued to the Alberta Energy Regulator to ensure mountaintop removal is no longer permitted and restrictions under the coal categories, including restrictions on surface mining in Category 2 lands, are applied.

In a rare moment for this government, the minister also admitted they were wrong in their approach.

"An important part of being a responsible government is to admit when you’ve made a mistake and to fix it," Savage said Monday. "And that’s what we are doing here today.

"We recognized that rescinding this policy has caused tremendous fear and. Anxiety that Alberta’s majestic eastern slopes would be forever damaged by mountain top and open pit coal mining."

The backlash was widespread and continued to grow in the months following the quiet announcement last May. But as mining companies snatched up available coal leases and applied for exploration permits that had largely sat dormant for decades, ranchers, municipalities and First Nations became increasingly concerned.

According to the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, hundreds of kilometres of new exploration roads have been built in the foothills in the past year, and more than 700 drill and exploration sites have been either built or approved.

A court challenge calling on the province to reinstate the policy is still awaiting a judge’s ruling. A ranching couple who were part of the legal application say they're encouraged by Monday’s announcement but their fight isn’t over just yet.

"Albertans spoke loud and clear and its one message: we do not want our mountains or our water screwed with. Period," said John Smith, who lives southwest of Nanton,

His wife Laura Laing says they worry about what is coming next. "Unfortunately trust has been lost along the way and throughout this process."

The UCP government had little choice other than to reverse course on the unpopular move. A poll released Monday morning by ThinkHQ showed 69 per cent of Albertans were opposed to mining the eastern slopes of the Rockies. He compared the results to the NDP’s deeply unpopular carbon tax in early 2017.

"It’s about the same as the opposition was for this proposal to add more coal mining. So this is the UCPs carbon tax," said pollster Marc Henry.