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Coal policy consultation needed: county council

Decision to pen letter to provincial government demanding better unanimously supported
mountain-view-county-news

MOUNTAIN VIEW COUNTY — The provincial government should conduct meaningful consultation with stakeholders before making any future changes to coal mining policies in the province, according to county council.

During a recent regularly scheduled council meeting, councillors discussed the province’s recent decision to reinstate Alberta’s 1976 Coal Policy after public concerns were raised by Albertans regarding surface mining in the Eastern Slopes of the Rocky Mountains.

“I think from a municipal perspective and to reflect the concerns of our residents, it seems to me the major concern that we might have — at least from my perspective — is the lack of public consultation,” said Reeve Bruce Beattie.

“Rather than taking any side on what coal policy should look like, I think we should indicate our disappointment in the lack of public consultation, and that’s a reflection from the members of the public that I have heard from.”

Coun. Angela Aalbers said, “I would completely agree with you Bruce.” Aalbers added that she believed it would be appropriate for the county to send letters to the appropriate ministers to voice need for consultation.

“I’m pleased that they have put back the policies, but I think we should follow up and send a letter and say, ‘You know what, you need to do better and our constituents are asking you to do better as well’,” she said.

Coun. Al Kemmere said he too believed the government needs to conduct consultations regarding coal policy.

“We have such high levels of consultation expected of us as municipalities, and all we are asking is that those same levels of consultation be reciprocated by the senior level of government,” said Kemmere. “If we focus on that, I think we are looking at the right target in our approach to this.”

Coun. Peggy Johnson motioned for the county to send a letter to Premier Jason Kenney, Energy Minister Sonya Savage and local MLAs thanking them for reinstating the 1976 coal policy and to “urge meaningful public consultation to address rural and urban taxpayers' ongoing environmental concerns.”

Johnson’s motion carried with no opposition.

The decision to reinstate Alberta’s 1976 Coal Policy includes reinstating the four coal categories, which dictate where and how coal leasing, exploration and development can occur.

The minister of energy issued a directive to the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) so that no mountaintop removal will be permitted and all of the restrictions under the 1976 coal categories are to apply, including all restrictions on surface mining in Category 2 lands. 

As well, all future coal exploration approvals on Category 2 lands will be prohibited pending widespread consultations on a new coal policy.

“Albertans have spoken loud and clear and we have heard them," said Savage during a press announcement. “Not only will we reinstate the full 1976 coal policy, we 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.”

“All proposed coal projects continue to be subject to stringent review by the Alberta Energy Regulator," she said. 

“In many cases, federal impact assessment and joint federal-provincial review also occur. Projects can only proceed if approved through these rigorous regulatory processes and adhere to all existing laws and regulations,” she said.

Applying for or obtaining a coal lease does not allow for exploration or development, merely giving a company the ability to stake a claim to the minerals below, she noted.

However, exploration activities will proceed on two projects approved after the government last year rescinded the 1976 Coal Policy. The reinstatement of the policy does not affect existing coal exploration and mining on any other categories of land, she added.  

“This means that core samples are being taken, perhaps roads are being built — it does not mean a project will be developed.”