After receiving feedback from 25,000 people, the Canadian province of Alberta decided to halt all coal exploration projects on Category 2 lands, which cover a 90,000-square-kilometre area on the eastern slopes and Foothills of the southern part of the Rocky Mountains.
Public feedback was provided via an online survey that ran from March 29 to April 19, 2021.
“An initial review of the results illustrates that many Albertans have significant concerns about coal exploration,” the Ministry of Energy said in a media statement. “Based on this insight, the Coal Policy Committee – an independent group appointed to lead comprehensive public engagement to inform the development of a modern coal policy – has recommended to the government that coal exploration in Category 2 lands be suspended.”
According to Energy Minister Sonya Savage, the affected companies have said they will cooperate with the pause. There are currently 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in the exploration stage – four of which began under the 1976 policy, and two that were approved after the policy was revoked in May 2020.
Given what the public has said, the minister mentioned that she is inclined to go for the second round of consultations based on a more in-depth analysis of the responses.
Savage pointed out that preliminary analyses of the survey show that the majority of respondents feel the management of the province’s coal resources affects them and believe that there are areas of the province that are not appropriate for coal development.
Although detailed results of the survey were not released, the government official also said that most respondents expressed concerns about coal exploration and are interested in participating in the engagement process through additional online surveys and virtual meetings.
Early results also show that most people believe that the province’s coal policy needs to be examined, particularly when it comes to the environmental impacts and locations of coal development.
The consultation process is the result of Alberta’s Energy Ministry bowing to public pressure after the massive backlash it received following its May 2020 decision to rescind the province’s 1976 policy governing coal exploration and development in the eastern slopes of the Rockies.
Initially, the lifting of the policy was framed 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.
At present, the terms of reference for the Coal Policy Committee do not include water and land use, yet, Savage said Albertans are welcomed to express their concerns about the impact of coal on water and the environment, on tourism and other industries.
In addition to having to reinstate the 1976 policy, the minister had to issue 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.