Activists against open-pit coal mining in the Rocky Mountains hung a protest banner outside Alberta Environment Minister Jason Nixon’s Rocky Mountain House constituency office this week.
“Protect Alberta water and Rocky Mountains. Say No to open pit coal mining on the Eastern Slopes” states the banner that contrasts a photo of scenic mountains with a strip mine.
No immediate comment was provided by Nixon, MLA for Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre, or his constituency office on Wednesday morning.
Exploratory coal leases in the Nordegg area were recently granted by Nixon’s UCP government, and many local residents have said they feel betrayed, as they had been promised eco-tourism opportunities in the area by Clearwater County.
Although the provincial government reversed course last month and reinstated some previously removed protections for these lands after a large public outcry, the energy ministry stated it has no intention of rescinding the Nordegg coal leases around Goldeye and Fish Lakes and Crescent Falls.
Ministry spokesperson Kavi Bal has stated coal exploration has always been permitted, even under the (now reinstated) 1976 coal policy — “if approved under strict environmental criteria by the AER.”
“To be clear, existing leases will not be cancelled as they do not give companies a right to develop,” said Bal, who noted some leases have been in place since prior to 1976 and have never been developed.
The government has committed to hearing input from Albertans through a widespread consultation process on a modern coal policy.
Some Nordegg residents, who are waiting for more details, say even coal exploration will bring roads, machinery, and environmental disturbance to the forest, conflicting with eco-tourism and Albertans’ enjoyment of the outdoors.
Many municipalities, including the City of Red Deer, have also expressed concern over potential contamination from open pit coal mines on the headwaters of the Red Deer, Old Man, and South Saskatchewan Rivers, which provide drinking water to thousands of Albertans.