Mountaintop Removal Coal Mines Regulations in Alberta
Alberta’s United Conservative Party government has rescinded a decades old policy that prevented coal companies from surface mining in the eastern slopes
Alberta’s United Conservative Party government has rescinded a decades old policy that prevented coal companies from surface mining in the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains in Alberta. The decision came into effect in June in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was lauded by Energy Minister Sonya Savage as a way to help attract new investment for an important industry. United Conservative Party removed a system of land classification that prohibited surface coal mining in more than a million hectares of the foothills and Rocky Mountains, areas important to First Nations and for the protection of numerous species at risk. Then, in December, Alberta accepted offers from Australian coal companies to mine nearly a dozen parcels of land spanning close to 2,000 hectares, seen by many as just the beginning of new coal leases in the region.
First Nations and landowners are seeking to take Alberta to court over the policy change. Submissions requesting a judicial review argue the government failed in its obligation to consult with those affected by land use decisions. First Nations, ranchers, municipal officials and environmentalists hope to persuade a judge to force Alberta to revisit its decision. At least nine interveners will seek to join a southern Alberta rancher's request for a judicial review of the province's decision
Although mining has occurred in the area for more than 100 years, the use of mountaintop removal mining in recent decades has dramatically changed the scale of the region’s mining operations. Entire mountains are carved up, with valuable metallurgical coal processed out. The remaining waste rock, which contains selenium, arsenic and nitrates, among other pollutants, is piled high in adjacent valleys where it is exposed to the elements. A 1976 policy laid out how and where coal development could go ahead, forbade open-pit mines over a large area and banned any mining at all in the most sensitive spots.
The eastern slopes are the source of three major rivers the Red Deer, the Oldman and the South Saskatchewan. Everyone in southern Alberta and many in Saskatchewan depend on those rivers for drinking water, irrigation and industry. Endangered species, including cutthroat trout and grizzly bears, live there. The region's beauty is universally acknowledged.