Bowing to public pressure, Alberta has reversed course on its decision last May to rescind the province's 1976 policy governing coal exploration and development in the Eastern Slopes region of the Rocky Mountains.
At the time when it lifted the policy, it framed the action as a modernization of regulations.
However the move alarmed multiple groups – including ranchers, environmental and First Nations groups as well as municipalities – worried about the potential effects of mining on water quality, property values, wildlife habitat and more.
In a press conference, Alberta's Energy Minister Sonya Savage, said the government will consult with the public before making any changes to “modernize” its coal policy – something she admitted it should have done before.
“To every single Albertan that has expressed their opposition to this decision, your government has heard you,” Savage said. “Alberta's government will reinstate the full 1976 coal policy.”
Savage said the province will implement further protections and consult with Albertans on a new, modern coal policy. “Alberta’s government is absolutely committed to protecting the majestic Eastern Slopes and the surrounding natural environment.”
The Eastern Slopes region covers about 90,000 sq. km of the foothills of Alberta's Rocky Mountains.
The 1976 coal policy limited development in some areas of the Rockies and prohibited it in others, with a total of four categories that laid out where and how coal development could occur. Open pit mining is restricted in Category 2 lands.
In addition to reinstating the 1976 policy, Savage said she's issued directives to the Alberta Energy Regulator prohibiting mountain top mining as well as the issue of any new coal exploration approvals on Category 2 lands until a new policy is in place.
Prices for metallurgical coal, used for steelmaking, have been on the rise and several companies are advancing projects in the area.
The government says current exploration on Category 2 lands, which is allowed under the 1976 policy, will continue. There are six coal projects in the exploration stage – four of which began under the 1976 policy, and two that were approved after the policy was revoked.
Savage said the government does not intend to revoke any current approvals, including the two that were granted between the time the policy was lifted and then reinstated.
And the announcement does not affect the most advanced coal projects in Alberta, Riversdale Resources' Grassy Mountain and Montem Resources' Tent Mountain project. Both companies are based in Australia and both projects would see open pit mining development on previously mined, Category 4 land, which has the least restrictions under the 1976 coal policy.
To watch the Alberta government's news conference, visit www.alberta.ca.