EDMONTON — The Alberta government says powerful public protest persuaded it to reinstate a policy that has kept open-pit coal mines out of the Rocky Mountains for almost 45 years.
“Albertans have spoken loud and clear and we have heard them,” Energy Minister Sonya Savage said in a release Monday.
“Not only we will reinstate the full 1976 coal policy, we will implement further protections and consult with Albertans on a new, modern coal policy.”
The province said no new exploration leases will be sold on so-called Category 2 land, the most environmentally sensitive areas not already included in national or provincial parks. It also specifically bans coal surface mines on Category 2 land.
Companies with current exploration permits may continue their work. But officials said Alberta’s energy regulator has been instructed not to allow any new mountaintop removal mines. The reinstated policy bans surface mines where that exploration is taking place.
Six companies currently hold exploration permits.
The government said public consultations on the future direction of coal mining in the province are to take place later this year. Details are expected soon.
The United Conservative government in May suddenly and unilaterally revoked the 1976 policy on coal mining that was developed under the Conservative government of Peter Lougheed after two years of public discussion.
Opposition to the move built gradually until entertainers, including country singers Corb Lund and Paul Brandt, came out against it last month. Within days, petitions against the mines had grown to more than 100,000 signatures.
Other celebrities would follow, including singer Jann Arden and “Heartland” actor Amber Marshall.
Small-town councils in the province’s southwest almost all opposed the dramatic expansion of the industry, especially since they were not consulted. Ranchers feared industry’s impact on their grazing lands and First Nations worried about effects on their traditional way of life.
At least eight communities had passed motions asking the province to back down.
Many people worried the industry could contaminate the headwaters of rivers that all of southern Alberta depends on. Others pointed out the mines would take place on habitat for endangered species from grizzly bears to cutthroat trout.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 8, 2021.