The United Conservative Party government’s decision to unilaterally rescind a 1976 Coal Policy that protected large swaths of Alberta’s Rocky Mountains and Foothills from open-pit coal mining has hit a nerve with Albertans.
Similar to the UCP government’s decision to close or privatize more than 160 provincial parks, which the government began to slowly back away from after widespread opposition in 2020, the decision to rescind the Coal Policy and enthusiastically support open-pit coal mining is an issue that is facing opposition across Alberta.
The opposition to the Coal Policy reminds me somewhat of the fight over electrical transmission lines that the old Progressive Conservative government stumbled into in the mid-2000s. In both cases, Conservative governments forgot how to listen to and speak with to their long-time rural supporters – and in the case of the PCs there were big consequences in the following election.
But in this case, the coal issue transcends the urban-rural divide that Alberta politicians sometimes like to exploit.
Albertans are proud of our Rocky Mountains. And we are acutely aware of how exploding the tops off those mountains would destroy habitat and pollute the water sources that millions of Albertans depend on.
Highwood UCP MLA RJ Sigurdson, who’s district includes part of the area directly impacted by the decision, says he is listening to his constituents concerns but he has not broken with his government on the issue. Livingstone-Macleod UCP MLA Roger Reid claimed the decision was made by the Alberta Energy Regulator, even though the policy was actually rescinded by Energy Minister Sonya Savage.
Describing the Peter Lougheed-era Coal Policy as outdated, Premier Jason Kenney dismissed the opposition by claiming critics of open-pit coal mining were mostly “city-dwellers.” But the chorus of opposition from Albertans who actually live on the Eastern Slopes of the Rockies tells the true story.
Who opposes the Kenney government’s decision to remove the 1976 Coal Policy?
The opposition to Kenney’s removal of the coal policy has been building since 2020, with ranchers, farmers and conservation, hunting, recreation and environmental groups, and the NDP opposition raising the alarm. But the opposition to Kenney’s coal push got a big boast when country music artists Corb Lund, Paul Brandt, Terri Clark, and kd lang, Heartland actor Amber Marshall, and television’s Terry Grant (aka the Mantracker) spoke out against the removal of the Coal Policy and in favour of protecting the Rockies and Foothills from open-pit coal mining.
Bearspaw, Ermineskin and Whitefish Lake First Nations – Landowners and the Ermineskin and Whitefish Lake First Nations have filed separate requests for a judicial review of the decision, which they argue was made without legally required consultations. (Alberta Native News, Jan. 18, 2021)
Municipal District of Ranchlands – Several groups are seeking intervenor status to join the ranchers seeking a judicial review: the M.D. of Ranchland, the Bearspaw, Siksika, Kainai and Whitefish First Nations, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, the Alberta Hiking Association, the Alberta Backcountry Hunters and Anglers Association, the Alberta Wilderness Association and the Livingstone Landowners Group. (CBC, Jan. 20, 2021)
Town of Claresholm: Town Council voted to send a letter following up on a June 20, 2020 letter to the Minister of Environment and the Minister of Energy, and to cc MLA Roger Reid and Premier Jason Kenney raising concern over the rescindment of the 1976 Coal Policy. (Town of Claresholm, Jan. 25, 2021)
Foothills County – Foothills councillors are expressing their concern with a lack of policy around coal mining in southern Alberta. Council agreed to draft a letter to the provincial government regarding the controversial application for the Grassy Mountain Coal Project, an $800-million coal mining operation proposed in the Crowsnest Pass by Benga Mining Ltd., a subsidiary of Australian parent company Riversdale Resources. (Okotoks Today, Jan. 25, 2021)
Town of Edson – Edson officials penned a letter to the premier on Jan. 19 that asked the province to reopen closed, already-developed metallurgical mines instead of moving forward with new ones. (Global News, Jan. 27, 2021)
Village of Longview – “We are definitely not in favour of it,” said Kathie Wight, mayor of Longview, a community of 334 that looks out on the rangelands and mountains of the province’s southwest. “More public consultation needs to be taken into consideration.” (Global News, Jan. 27, 2021)
Town of Nanton – The Town of Nanton has sent a letter, signed by the mayor, to Alberta’s premier stating its concerns about open pit coal mining in southwest Alberta. In the Jan. 20 letter, the Town first thanks Premier Jason Kenney and Sonya Savage, Alberta’s energy minister, for the government’s Jan. 18 announcement cancelling 11 recently issued coal leases and the pause in issuing coal lease sales in former “Category 2” lands, which include large swaths of the Eastern Slopes and were previously protected. (Nanton News, Jan. 27, 2021)
Town of Okotoks – Okotoks Town Council passed a motion to draft a letter addressed to Premier Jason Kenney and other members of the provincial government regarding the recently rescinded 1976 Coal Policy. The letter would request an immediate rollback on the rescinding of the policy, a consultation process on the desired changes to the policy, and an impact report on how the project may affect local water. (Okotoks Online, Jan. 28, 2021)
Town of High River – “Coal exploration is causing irreparable damage to the landscapes and watersheds as well as adversely affecting the public’s access, use and enjoyment of Crown lands,” says the letter from town council in High River, about 55 kilometres south of Calgary. (CBC, Feb. 1, 2021)
Town of Canmore – Canmore Mayor John Borrowman will write a letter to Premier Jason Kenney urging him and the UCP government to reinstate the 1976 Coal Development Policy that was rescinded last year. (Rocky Mountain Today, Feb. 2, 2021)
Kainai-Blood Tribe – The Kainai-Blood Tribe will be launching a legal challenge against the Government of Alberta over its decision to unilaterally rescind the 1976 Coal Policy. (Lethbridge Herald, Feb. 2, 2021)
Town of Turner Valley – Turner Valley town council voted in favour of submitting a letter to the provincial government regarding coal exploration, joining several other Alberta towns in doing so. The letter includes several requests, including for the provincial government re-instate the 1976 Coal Policy, to institute a consultation process with relevant stakeholders, and for an analysis of environmental, hydrological, economic, and recreational impacts of the proposed changes. (Okotoks Online, Feb. 3, 2021)
Siksika First Nation– Siksika First Nation is launching a legal challenge against the province’s decision to rescind its coal policy, effectively allowing open-pit coal mining in the Rockies. (Calgary Herald, Feb. 4, 2021)
City of Airdrie – City council voted unanimously Feb. 1 to offer support to municipalities in southern Alberta that are advocating against the development of open-pit coal mining in the Rocky Mountains. At the Feb. 1 meeting, Airdrie resident Jessica Jacobs submitted a letter to council as public correspondence, urging the City to take a stance against the Grassy Mountain Coal Project – an $800-million coal mining operation that has been proposed in the Crowsnest Pass. (AirdrieToday.com, Feb. 5, 2021)
City of Lethbridge – Lethbridge could be joining a chorus of communities across southern Alberta to voice concerns about the UCP government’s decision to rescind a 45 year old policy on coal mining. Councillors will discuss an official business resolution next Tuesday (Feb. 9) which, if adopted would have the mayor write to Premier Jason Kenney and the Ministers of Environment and Energy requesting the policy be reinstated. (MyLethbridgeNow.com, Feb. 5, 2021)
It has been reported that the Town of Black Diamond and Clearwater County are also expected to discuss the issue in the coming weeks. Calgary City Council will discuss the issue at a Feb. 8 meeting.
Listen and subscribe to the Daveberta Podcast to hear this weekend’s podcast discussion about the Coal Policy with writer and conservationist Kevin Van Tighem.