After months of ignoring a grassroots protest movement opposing plans to allow open-pit coal mining in Alberta’s Rockies, Energy Minister Sonya Savage said today the provincial government made a mistake and is now prepared to fix it.
In a brief news conference, Savage said the province would reinstate the 1976 Coal Policy, which prohibited open-pit mining on 1.5 million hectares of “Category 2” lands in the eastern slopes of the Rockies.
In addition, Savage said she had instructed the Alberta Energy Regulator that “no mountain top removal will be permitted” in the province and that all future coal exploration on the Category 2 lands will be paused indefinitely until public consultation is held.
Coal exploration by Australian miners on six existing leases in the foothills will not be paused.
Savage’s reinstatement of the Coal Policy directly contradicts statements from Premier Jason Kenney on Wednesday that the Coal Policy was a “dead letter” and obsolete.
The highly unpopular premier also characterized opponents of coal mining as urban snobs even though the majority of the opposition has come from his party’s angry base: ranchers, farmers, landowners and rural towns and municipalities.
The government’s abrupt change of course follows weeks of protests from hundreds of thousands of Albertans from all walks of life and all political parties.
They raised concerns about water security, selenium pollution (a legacy of open-pit coal mines), and the future of the province’s iconic eastern slopes.
Landowner and conservation groups greeted today’s announcement with skepticism.
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