Too little, too late: “Pause” on new coal leases fails to address ongoing threat of coal development in Alberta’s Rocky Mountains

January 18, 2021

CPAWS Southern and Northern Alberta chapters are concerned that the Minister of Energy has not heard the real concerns of Albertans on new coal developments in the Eastern Slopes of the Rockies.

Today the Minister of Energy announced the suspension of mineral lease auctions for coal in areas that were protected from open pit coal mining by Alberta’s now-defunct Coal Policy — formerly known as Category 2 lands. But conservationists are concerned the announcement is too little, too late.

“While this is a step in the right direction, this ‘pause’ will have little effect on the ability of existing leases to be explored and developed for coal in the region,” says Katie Morrison, Conservation Director with CPAWS Southern Alberta. “There are more than 840,000 hectares of coal leases and rights in the Eastern Slopes. This area includes around 420,000 hectares within lands formerly protected as Category 2 (an area approximately the size of Kananaskis Country) that are now, and still with today’s announcement, open for development as open-pit coal mines. These areas continue to be open and at risk from coal exploration and mine development.”

Since the cancellation of Alberta’s Coal Policy in June 2020, there has been an influx of coal exploration development — building of new roads and deep drill pits — in some of Alberta’s most environmentally sensitive areas. These areas are the source of Alberta’s water and contain habitat for species-at-risk, such as grizzly bears, caribou and native trout. They also include some of Alberta’s most iconic scenic landscapes, which are important areas for local economic drivers such as ranching and outdoor recreation.

Today’s announcement does nothing to address the impact coal exploration is having on these sensitive areas, nor the ability of the companies on these lands or other existing leases in Category 2 lands to continue moving forward with mine development. Cancelling the newest 11 leases changes very little with regards to the scale of the impact the removal of the Coal Policy has on Alberta’s Eastern Slopes. The 11 leases referenced in the government press release were small, covering only 1,800 hectares (0.2% of the area that has already been leased).

“Whether or not the coal leases were existing or new, open-pit coal mines are now allowed in Alberta’s headwaters where they previously were not,” says Morrison.

“We have heard from thousands of Albertans who have been very clear that they do not support coal exploration or mine development in Alberta’s Rocky Mountains,” adds Chris Smith, Parks Coordinator with CPAWS Northern Alberta. “The Minister’s announcement in no way addresses these concerns. We are asking the Government of Alberta to fully reinstate the Coal Policy, hold public consultations on the issue, and permanently prohibit new coal proposals, exploration, and open-pit mines in these important areas.”

For more information contact: 

Katie Morrison
Conservation Director, CPAWS Southern Alberta

Christopher Smith
Parks Coordinator, CPAWS Northern Alberta