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article imageAlberta rescinds regulations — Will allow open-pit coal mines

By Karen Graham     May 22, 2020 in Environment
The Alberta provincial government is changing its coal policies in a move it says is intended to make it easier to develop open-pit coal mines in one of the province’s most sensitive areas.
“Government is placing a strong focus on creating the necessary conditions for the growth of export coal production,” says a news release dated May 15.
The changes will come into effect on June 1, 2020, when the "Coal Policy" of 1976 expires. Alberta energy minister Sonya Savage said rescinding the outdated coal policy in favor of modern oversight will help attract new investment to the province, and those investments are already waiting for June 1 to arrive.
The 1976 "Coal Policy" divided the province into four categories, which dictated where and how coal leasing, exploration, and development could occur. This was at a time before land use planning was complete and little if any infrastructure was in place. And, the new regulations just weren't equipped to address any environmental concerns.
These maps show the four categories of land protected under Alberta s 1976 Coal Policy  overlaid wit...
These maps show the four categories of land protected under Alberta's 1976 Coal Policy, overlaid with markings indicating caribou ranges and grizzly bear habitat.
Alberta Wilderness Association
The only protections that will remain in place cover former "Category 1" lands — indicated in yellow in the map. These lands include most but not all of Alberta's Rocky Mountains. Restrictions in the other three land categories — indicated in blue, pink, and purple — are no longer needed, says the province, according to CBC Canada.
Environment Minister Jason Nixon says critical watershed and biodiversity along the Eastern slope of the mountains will still be protected, using other means. "Through this approach, we are striking the balance of ensuring strong environmental protection with providing industry with an incentive to increase investment," Nixon said in the news release.
Nissa Petterson with the Alberta Wilderness Association says the announcement came out of the blue, with no indication such a change had been in the works and no public consultation. "That doesn't really seem like an open conversation for a resource that's owned by Albertans," she said.
“It operated at a higher level than a project-by-project basis,” she said. “It was a high-tier, overarching policy," according to the Global News.
File photo: Coal in the Powder River Basin.
File photo: Coal in the Powder River Basin.
Peabody Energy
What this means is real simple - The province is bringing coal assessments in line with those the regulator uses for oil and gas proposals, said Alberta Energy spokesman Kavi Bal. It is also extremely rare for the regulator to turn a proposal down.
Kevin Van Tighem, the spokesman for area landowners, told the Globe and Mail That the regulator is already looking at several coal applications.
“The timing couldn’t be more obvious,” he said. “Right when we have a series of major strip-mine proposals waiting for approval, suddenly this policy complication is quietly moved out of the way.”
Van Tighem said the Oldman River, which springs from the area, is a crucial water source for the southern plains as far east as Saskatoon. There is already a moratorium on water rights because of the demands on the Oldham. “All that water comes from a headwaters landscape. It all depends on having a landscape that’s porous and vegetated. And we’re proposing to strip-mine it.”
More about openpit coal mines, Alberta Canada, Regulation, "Coal Policy" of 1976, Environment
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