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Ranchers 'vindicated' but concerned after court forces government to share coal policy documents

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It took four years in court, but a group of Eastern Slope ranchers will finally get access to thousands of pages of documents outlining when and how the province decided to tear up 44 years of coal policy.

"The courts are being stalled up with resistance to release these materials that belong to Albertans," said Laura Laing, a rancher based west of Nanton.

"As hard as they've been fighting for us to not see the rest of the documents – because what hasn't been redacted is fairly damning – I would suggest we have a lot to find out on this file."

The group had already received a series of five packages from the province through FOIP, but more than half of the roughly 1,300 were completely blank.

Those documents were spread between 2021 and 2023.

Many questions remain.

"Like, how did we get to almost opening up the entirety of the Eastern Slopes to industrial open pit coal mining – it would have been the largest development that Alberta has ever seen – without the knowledge of Albertans?" Laing said.

There are some clues – a revision of the 1976 Eastern Slopes coal policy was underway at least as early as October of 2019.

The policy brought in under Peter Lougheed's government prevented all coal mining development along virtually all of the Eastern Slopes from the Crowsnest Pass to Kananaskis Country.

But late on the Friday afternoon before the 2020 May long weekend, the province issued a statement saying it was accepting new coal licence applications.

Following broad public outcry, the Jason Kenney government eventually re-instated the long-standing protection policy, but not before attempting to auction rights as far north as Mist Ridge in Kananaskis and allowing the building of at least 65 kilometres of new exploration roads.

"This feels like a validation of a lot of hard work and a lot of energy by some good people," said Rachel Herbert of Trails End Beef near Nanton.

Current Energy and Minerals Minister Brian Jean's office issued a statement on Wednesday:

"The decision is under review to determine if an appeal should be filed. We recognize that there is public interest related to coal production in Alberta, which is why the department has released many public documents and information through FOIP requests and other disclosure mechanisms. With the exception of the designated advanced coal projects, the ministerial order stopping coal development and coal exploration in the foothills remains in effect."

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