Red Deer city council called out the province on Tuesday for failing to consult with Albertans — including municipalities — before changing its coal policy in the Rocky Mountains.
On Feb. 8, Alberta’s Energy Minister bowed to months of public pressure and reinstated the 1976 protections that prevented strip mining the mountains and some foothills. These protections had been rescinded last June, with no public consultation.
While Red Deer city council heartily supports the recent reversal by Energy Minister Sonya Savage, “this in no way excuses what they did” in 2020, said Councillor Dianne Wyntjes.
She said on Tuesday that the province deserves “a tongue lashing… The coal industry knew about these initiatives before other Albertans did.”
Many city residents have called the municipality with concerns about the provincial government’s coal policy and its potential impact on water quality in Alberta, confirmed Coun. Vesna Higham.
“We’ve received a number of emails from people who are enraged by what the province has done” in formerly rescinding the 1976 protection policy, she added. “We need to continue our advocacy for whatever else comes down the road,” in terms of loosened government policy.
Council heard the Red Deer River, as well as the Old Man and South Saskatchewan, could be impacted by coal development in the Rocky Mountain Foothills. A number of exploratory coal leases have been approved by the government in the Nordegg area — and these will not be withdrawn even though the government policy was reversed.
On Tuesday, city council threw its unanimous support behind advocating for citizens who depend on the Red Deer River for their water by affirming the government’s reinstatement of the 1976 coal development for Alberta.
City council is also requesting the provincial government conduct broad public consultation before enacting any future chances to coal mining policy.
“Trust has been broken on this,” said Wyntjes.
Mayor Tara Veer said the public must be adequately consulted in future — and so too must municipalities, since they are responsible for providing clean drinking water to citizens.
As a “guardian of our water,” it’s “imperative” the city of Red Deer take a position on whatever could impact the watershed, added Veer.
Councillors Michael Dawe, who sat on several local and regional water quality committees, knows that water supply in this province is diminishing while demands for its many uses — residential, agricultural, industrial and commercial — are vastly increasing.
The Alberta government needs to look a century ahead to ensure there’s an ample, clean water supply, for the sake of future growth and prosperity, said Dawe, who condemned “short-term ill-advised moves.”
Other councillors also expressed concern about the possibility of contaminants leeching into the water basins and delicate eco-systems.