In this March 28, 2017, file photo, a dump truck hauls coal at Contura Energy's Eagle Butte Mine near Gillette, Wyo. Public opposition to the Alberta government's plans to expand coal mining in the Rocky Mountains appears to be growing. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Mead Gruver, File

Public opposition growing: Petitions against Alberta coal mines top 100K signatures

Public opposition growing: Petitions against Alberta coal mines top 100K signatures

Public opposition to the Alberta government’s plan to expand coal mining in the Rocky Mountains is growing with tens of thousands of people signing petitions, writing letters and joining online groups.

“It just grows like a prairie fire,” said Laurie Adkin, a University of Alberta political scientist who is tracking the campaigns opposing the mines.

“I’ve never seen anything in Alberta like this.”

More than 100,000 signatures had been collected by Monday on two petitions opposing the United Conservative government’s move on two related fronts.

One, sponsored by environmental groups on Change.org, is addressed to the provincial government and asks it to reconsider a decision revoking a policy that protected the foothills and the Rockies from coal mining. That petition had 77,000 signatures Monday afternoon — an increase of about 10,000 over the weekend.

Another, sponsored by a private citizen and addressed to federal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, had nearly 28,000 names opposing the Benga coal project in southern Alberta, which is undergoing a federal-provincial environmental review.

Adkin said that group had 4,100 signatures less than two weeks ago. Much of that increase came after public statements opposing the mines by popular Alberta performers, including Corb Lund.

Alberta’s Environment and Parks Department did not respond to a request for comment.

Petitions aren’t the only places people are expressing concern

A Facebook site called Protect Alberta’s Rockies and Headwaters has more than doubled its membership over the last week to more than 10,000.

The Benga review has received more than 4,000 statements of concern from members of the public. Adkin, who reviewed more than 1,000 of them, said about 98 per cent opposed the development.

Members of the Blood Tribe in southern Alberta have mounted a postcard campaign against both Benga and the removal of the coal policy. More than 700 postcards have been sent to Wilkinson asking him to block any coal development in the Rockies and another 2,000 have joined an online group to that end, said organizer Latasha Calf Robe.

Calf Robe said that while some southern Alberta chiefs support mines, people in the communities haven’t been consulted.

“Most First Nations have never heard about these projects until the last couple weeks here,” she said. “No conversations have been happening with the memberships in these areas. There are real concerns that need to be assessed.”

The Opposition New Democrats have also started a petition that has garnered nearly 2,900 names in a week. A spokesman said the number nearly doubles every day.

Leader Rachel Notley called the increase a “slow burn” rooted in the government’s plan to change how provincial parks are classified and protected. She said that decision — also announced without consultation — damaged trust in the United Conservatives.

“One thing that did percolate over the summer was the overall distrust of this government’s plans,” she said. “(The coal protests) feed off that same level of distrust.

“Folks are very, very suspicious of these guys.”

Notley said concern over parks and coal mines is rejigging old political allegiances.

“Historic party lines are realigning as we speak. You go to very wealthy areas of the province that definitely align themselves with conservatives and you see Save My Parks signs all over the place.”

Edmonton New Democrat MP Heather McPherson has received hundreds of calls on the issue, a spokeswoman said.

“Albertans do not support opening the eastern slopes for coal exploration and development,” McPherson wrote in a letter to Wilkinson.

Meanwhile, government documents have surfaced showing three more recreation areas in the mountains and foothills are now surrounded or mostly surrounded by mine exploration leases sold since the coal policy was rescinded. That brings the total to at least eight.

The three areas are in the central foothills west of Red Deer — Crescent Falls, Fish Lake and Goldeye Lake.

All three are accessible and popular and feature in the area’s tourism promotion.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 18, 2021.

— Follow @row1960 on Twitter

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

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