What Is The Issue?
Until recently, open pit coal mining was not a threat to our water system in Alberta. In 1976, a Coal Development Policy was put in place by the Alberta government that protected the very sensitive areas of the headwaters. That policy took 2 years to develop and was created with input from the scientific community and public consultations. It divided the areas of potential interest for coal mining into 4 categories of land. Our headwaters and Rocky Mountains were protected by this policy as they were identified to be in a category of land that was too high risk for this type of activity to take place. It was recognized there could be no recovery from losing our water source and damage to this environment.
In the spring of 2020, the government of Alberta rescinded this Coal Development Policy with no public consultation or input from First Nations or the scientific community. This action opened the doors for foreign interests to see business opportunities on the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains. These (mostly) Australian coal mining companies plan to ship the coal to China to use in the production of steel.
The headwaters for Alberta rivers (as well as Saskatchewan and Manitoba rivers) are located on these eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains. If the headwaters are damaged by the creation of surface mines, then all living things downstream will be at risk. The possibility of damage can arise when the soil, vegetation and the rock (overburden) that covers the vein of coal is removed. Whether it is called open pit mining, or mountain top removal…the potential for damage by surface mining in these sensitive areas is extreme. This industry uses a great deal of water, and is expected to use up a large portion of this most precious natural resource. Additionally, selenium poisoning of the water is a likely consequence as demonstrated by this type of mining in the Elk Valley, in BC. Selenium is a mineral that is toxic to fish, wildlife and humans when the level is too high. Deformities have already been noted in the endangered Westslope Cutthroat trout in BC because of selenium poisoning. Community water wells near the BC mines are no longer safe, and the mining company there has been working hard to correct this problem, however, the technology does not currently exist to remove this toxin from the water. The threat to our water is threefold: damage to the watershed, increased demand on this precious resource, and poison with selenium.
While this 1976 Policy was not protected as law (previous governments had already issued exemptions) it did describe restrictions for sensitive areas that were viewed as deterrents by coal mining companies and investors. After it was rescinded, public outrage grew over extensive exploration (roads and drilling in pristine wilderness) and proposals for surface mining in these sensitive areas. On February 8, 2021, in response to mounting pressure from the public, the Minister of Energy announced that the Coal Development Policy of 1976 was re-instated, and that the government would plan for public consultation in the development of a modern policy. She made it clear in her announcement, however, that approvals already issued for exploration would not be removed. Additionally, the minister emphasized that the government plans to proceed with metallurgical coal mining and “ensure a path forward for investors”.
On February 23, the Minister of Energy, Sonya Savage, stated in a press release: “Since announcing our commitment to widespread consultation on a modern coal policy for Alberta, we have heard from many passionate Albertans and interested groups who want to be engaged. I’m pleased to announce these public consultations will begin on March 29th. I have directed my department officials to bring forward a comprehensive consultation plan that is by Albertans and for Albertans. The details of the process will be announced before consultations begin.”
A most important first step, would be for the Government of Alberta to halt all coal exploration activities on the Eastern Slopes.
Any consultation done in good faith would have a process that has been agreed upon by stakeholders and therefore all would have time to prepare for appropriate engagement, not simply be notified of the process before the consultations begin. In addition, Alberta Energy should be considered a stakeholder in these discussions (as opposed to the leader of these consultations). Finally, the goal would more accurately be identified as a Land Use Plan to protect Alberta water and the Eastern Slopes as opposed to a Coal Development Policy.
Protect Alberta Water and Rocky Mountains.
Say NO to exploration and surface mining on the Eastern Slopes.
THERE ARE SEVERE CONSEQUENCES THAT WILL BE FELT BY ALL ALBERTANS IF SURFACE MINING IS PERMITTED TO PROCEED IN THE HEADWATERS AND SENSITIVE AREAS OF OUR EASTERN SLOPES
These consequences include:
- Recreational and tourism related businesses will be destroyed. Hiking, camping, hunting, cross country skiing, fishing and many other outdoor activities are at odds with open pit mining and will disappear in these areas. Parks in the region stretching north through the Rockies are threatened as more coal leases are sold.
- Farms that are dependent on water irrigation systems in arid southern Alberta will be threatened. Crop production is a diverse industry in southern Alberta and operations vary in size from small market operations to large scale commercial farms. All of these operations depend on a source of good water for survival.
- Our iconic Rocky Mountains will have their tops removed by explosives in the process of locating, exposing and extracting the vein of coal that will be sold to China. Regardless of promises made by the coal mining companies, our mountains cannot be replaced.
- The eastern slopes of southern Alberta is ranching country. Cattle graze in the areas that the mining companies plan to exploit. Not only will the lack of (or selenium poisoned) water be devastating to this industry, but the mines will destroy the actual grazing lands. The process of open pit mining involves removing the top soil and turf. This turf is currently rich with natural rough fescue. It is a hardy, particularly nutritious plant that sustains cattle and wildlife. However, once this ancient grass is disturbed, it is very difficult (if not impossible) to remediate.
- After the turf with the rough fescue is removed, the top of the mountain is actually removed with explosives. The rubble tumbles down the valley and it is from this rock rubble that the selenium leaches into ground water. Wildlife will no longer be able to survive in the vicinity. Not only is the water they depend on threatened, but their feed as well. The rough fescue that they rely on is important to sustain elk and bighorn sheep through the winter. Roads and heavy machinery will infiltrate the area, threatening wildlife (including the endangered grizzly bear) and push them into areas that are more populated and not suited for their survival.
- Health issues will develop from the coal dust. Many Albertans (as well as wildlife and cattle) will suffer the consequences of coal dust taking the place of fresh mountain air.
- The Eastern Slopes support First Nations traditions including hunting, fishing, trapping, gathering, travelling, and cultural practices. Exploration and coal developments will infringe on First Nations Treaty Rights.
- Alberta will be investing in an industry that will negatively impact our reputation for working to reduce impacts on climate change.
- Our downstream neighbours in Saskatchewan and Manitoba will be negatively affected. Lawsuits from downstream users in the United States are a current reality as a result of the BC mines. Alberta will logically be at risk from lawsuits as well.
- Coal prices fluctuate and coal mining companies are in the business to make money. When the price of coal drops, the companies will move out. Alberta will be left with unspeakable environmental damage.
The Alberta government has sold coal mining leases that stretch north through the Eastern Slopes of Alberta’s Rocky Mountains.
The risk of surface mining in these areas is too high.
Protect Alberta Water and Rocky Mountains. Say NO to exploration and open pit coal mining on the Eastern Slopes.
What can I do ?
- Call and email your Alberta MLA
- Call and email your Federal MP
- Participate in the Niitsitapi Postcard Campaign
- Sign the Petition to go to the Federal Government requesting a ban on new strip mines, the reopening of strip-mines or the expansion of existing mines in the Rocky Mountains (Closes June 5, 20201)
- Sign the Petition to go to the Federal Government requesting a cumulative assessment of impacts of all exploration and proposed coal projects (Closes March 13, 2021)
- Sign the petition that will go to the Alberta Legislature in June 2021. Please check the website for locations to sign a hard copy.
- Talk to your neighbour or co-workers and help let Albertans know what is happening
- Make a donation to support litigation
- Make a donation to support Water Niitsitapi Protectors.
- Make a donation to support billboards and increase public awareness
- Display a banner (4’ x 12’ vinyl banner OR a 2’ x 6’ vinyl banner) with the same graphic as the one at the top of this webpage at your location (or please ensure you have permission!) Banners can be ordered on this link. Please email the form directly to the printer.
- Sign up on the Alberta Government website for notifications and information regarding their plan for “Coal Policy Development” updates.
Where can I get more information?
- The Tyee: When is Mountaintop Removal not Mountaintop Removal? In Alberta, Of Course! By: Andrew Nikiforuk. March 5, 2021
- Small Caps: Montem Resources’ test work confirms ‘tier one’ quality coking coal at Chinook By: Robin Bromby March 4, 2021.
- Pincher Creek Echo: MD Council directs administration to stay at forefront of coal, water conversations. By: Riley Cassidy. March 2, 2021
- Canadian Cattlemen: Reinstatement of Coal Policy not enough, say Alberta ranchers. By: Piper Whelan. February 26, 2021.
- The Narwhal: Here’s why Alberta’s ban on mountaintop-removal mining won’t affect proposed coal mines in the Rockies By: Sharon J. Riley February 25,2021
- Calgary Herald: Opinion: What Alberta’s public consultation on coal should look like By: Ian Urquhart February 25, 2021.
- CBC: No details: Alberta energy minister announces date for start of coal consultations By: Bob Weber. February 24,2021
- CBC: ‘Serious concerns’: Alberta First Nations oppose coal expansion in Rocky Mountains. Canadian Press February 24, 2021.
- CTV: Coal consultations to start March 29: Government urged to stop mining exploration until process is completed. By: Terry Vogt February 23, 2021
- The Narwhal: A tale of two provinces: how coal mining plowed ahead in the B.C. Rockies while Alberta hit the brakes By: Sharon J. Riley February 20, 2021
- Global News:Concerns Over Alberta Government’s Plans for consultation on new coal policy By: Jill Croteau February 17, 2021
- CTV: “Hollow Promises”:Top Coal Scientist Warns Albertans of contamination from Mining By: Bob Weber February 16,2021
- Calgary Herald: Opinion: Beware of further smoke, mirrors from the UCP on coal policy By: Stephen Legault February 13,2021
- The Narwhal: 9 things that haven’t changed since Alberta’s about face on coal mining policy. By: Sharon J. Riley Feb. 12 2021
- Y2Y Webinar : Call About Coal Mining in Alberta. March 3, 2021
- Niitsitapi Water Protectors: Blackfoot Perspectives on Open Pit Coal Mining; Speakers: Becky Best-Bertwistle of CPAWS Southern Alberta ; Mike Bruised Head, Kainai First Nation; Dr. Lana Potts, Piikani First Nation; Brooks Arcand-Paul, Alexander First Nation; Latasha Calf Robe, Kainai First Nation February 24, 2021.
- University of Calgary, The School of Public Policy; “Coal Mining Development in the Rockies: The Regulatory, Economic and Environmental Implications” Speakers: Nigel Bankes, Marvin Shaffer, and Diane Dupont. February 19, 2021.
- Alberta Wilderness Association: Coal and Health – Virtual Town Hall February 17, 2021
- Protect Our Water: Say No to Coal; Edmonton Chapter of the Council of Canadians Town Hall ; Speakers: Latasha Calf Robe, Ian Urquhart, Kevin Van Tighem, and Drew Yewchuk. February 11, 2021.
- SACPA: “Coal Mining in the Oldman River Watershed: What is happening and what are the long term impacts? Speaker: Shannon Frank, Executive Director of the Oldman Watershed Council. February11, 2021.
- CBC: Sonya Savage’s Announcement February 8, 2021
- Save the Mountains – Coal Policy February 6, 2021
- Amber Marshall: My thoughts on Alberta’s Coal Development Policy Feb 2, 2021
- CBC: Alberta’s New Approach to Coal
- The Narwhal: Coal Valley: The story of B.C.’s quiet water contamination crisis – YouTube
- Save The Mountains – David Luff – YouTube
- SaveTheMountains – Plateau Cattle Co. – YouTube
- SaveTheMountains – Our Water – YouTube
- A Hunter’s Perspective: Open Pit Coal Mining in Alberta
- Water not Coal – You-Tube
- Real Talk: Ryan Jespersen. December 30 2020 and continuing in January
- CHQR 770: Danielle Smith
- Livingstone Landowners Group Finding Water: Healthy Land, Healthy System By: Livingstone Landowners Group, March 19, 2020.
- Protect Alberta’s Rockies and Headwaters Facebook
- Save The Mountains Alberta Facebook
- Niitsitapi Water Protectors Facebook
- Protect Alberta Rockies Instagram
- Alberta’s Crown Land Vision – Contradictory with Government action regarding forward movement with Open Pit Coal Mining – November 2020
- Fisheries and Oceans Canada : Rocky Mountains’ Eastern Slopes Priority Area (This is at odds with Open Pit Pit Mining) August 31, 2020
- Wildsight: Do we really need coal to make steel? B: Lars Sander-Green June 1, 2020.
- Investor Confidence: Indigenous Reconciliation Fact Sheet: Alberta’s Relationship with Indigenous Peoples, A Path to Reconciliation. Government of Alberta August 2018
- How mountaintop mining affects life and landscape in West Virginia – 2017
- The Guardian: Full of holes: why Australia’s Mining Boom will leave permanent scars. By : Michael Slezak and Joshua Robertson July 19, 2016
- The Land of Mountain Top Removal – West Virginia 2013 – Smithsonian Channel
- How do we mine coal – Open Cut Process
- Background paper on Rough Fescue
- Undermining Australia – Coal vs Community
Images Copyright Callum Gunn, eastcherry
- The Line: Kenney tried to get between Albertans and their mountains. Never do that. By: Jen February 12, 2021
- Shootin’ the breeze: “Adjusting water allocation will create opportunities for good jobs” says MLA by Sean Oliver February 11, 2021
- The Tyee: Don’t be fooled, Alberta is still playing the coal game. By Andrew Nikiforuk February 10, 2021
- The Narwhal: How backlash led Alberta’s UCP to reverse course on Rockies coal miningBy: Sharon J. Riley February 10, 2021.
- RD News Now: Miner ponders imp-act of restoration of coal protection policy in Alberta . The Canadian Press February 10, 2021
- Rocky Mountain Outlook: Banff Council Calls on Alberta Government to Immediately Stop Existing Coal Exploration By: Cathy Ellis February 9, 2021
- Global News: Saskatchewan Environmental Groups Welcome Reinstatement of Alberta Coal Policy By: Ryan Kessler February 9, 2021
- Global News: Doubts Raised Over Protections from Reinstated 1976 Alberta Coal Policy By: Bob Weber February 9, 2021
- The Guardian. “This land feeds our souls”: The Battle to Save the Rockies from Big Coal. By: Leyland Cecco February 9,2021
- The Tyee : Critics Skeptical as Alberta Reverses Course on Open Pit Mines By: Andrew Nikiforuk Feb.8, 20
- CBC: Alberta Reverses Direction on Coal Development and Reinstates 1976 Policy, for now. By: Robson Fletcher February 8, 2021
- The Narwhal: An Alberta county drafted big tourism plans. Then came the coal leases. By: Sharon J. Riley February 6, 2021
- The Canadian Press: Saskatchewan NDP concerned over Alberta coal mining; asks province to intervene Feb.5/2021
- Global News: Mining for the Truth (3 part series) By: Jill Croteau February 2,3,4, 2021
- Edmonton Journal: Alberta Premier Jason Kenney defends Rockies Coal Policy, Calls Old Protections a ‘dead letter’. February 3,2021
- CBC: Town of High River asks Alberta for Stop-Work Orderon Coal Exploration in Mountains. By Bob Weber February 1, 2021
- CTV: Alberta promises close watch on new mines but cuts oversight of coal-polluted rivers By Bob Weber February 1, 2021
- High Country News: Mountaintop Removal Threatens Traditional Blackfoot Territory By: Rosalyn LaPier February 1, 2021
- The Narwhal: Alberta’s “Back Door” Plan to Free Up Water for Coal Mines Raises Alarm By: Sharon J. Riley Feb.1, 2021
- Blood tribe: Community Notice – Blood tribe Statement on Coal Policy By: Joey Sugai January 28, 2021
- Red Deer Advocate: ‘This is a terrible thing that’s been done to us’: Approved coal leases in west-central Alberta a concern By: Lana Michelin January 26.2021
- The Tyee: Loads of Coal Disinformation from the Kenney Government By Andrew Nikiforuk January 25, 2021.
- Livingstone Landowners: Response to the Environment Minister’s January 18, 2021 letter Commenting on the Rescission of the Coal Policy: By Gavin Fitch January 2021
- Contaminant from coal mines already high in some Alberta rivers: unreported data By Bob Weber January 25, 2021
- You don’t want to live next door to a coal mine. By David Savage January 24, 2021
- Montem Resources hits thick coal seams in Canadian coping coal drilling by Robert Bromby – January 21, 2021
- ‘I feel the government is trying to trick Albertans’: Former civil servant on sudden coal lease cancellations CBC News · Posted: January 19, 2021
- Alberta’s Cancelled Coal Leases Called a ‘Trick’ By: Andrew Nikiforuk January 19, 2021
- CPAWS response to the Announcement by Alberta’s Minister of Energy, Sonya Savage, on January 18, 2021
- “Morally and ethically wrong”: Court to hear Challenge to Alberta Coal Policy Removal. By: Bob Weber January 17, 2021
- Western Stock Growers Association News: Alberta Mountain Top Removal Open Pit Coal Mining Policy (with links and references) January 2021
- Corb Lund: Mountains, Not Mines by: Corb Lund January 12, 2021
- Alpine Club of Canada: Act Now to Stop The Grassy Mountain Coal Mine by: Brenda Davison January 11, 2021
- Calgary CTV: Coal Exploration Around Parks Raises Questions About Future Recreation by: Bob Weber, January 8,2021
- The Narwhal:Canada’s Ecosystem Hotspots: Rockies, Hudson Bay among areas Flagged for Protection. By Brian Owens January 5, 2021
- Outdoor Canada: Alberta To Allow New Coal Strip Mines that Could Kill Four Blue Ribbon Trout Rivers. By: Kevin Van Tighem January 5, 2021
- The Narwhal: Alberta is Planning New Mountain Top Removal Coal Mines. Here’s What That Looks Like. By: Sharon J. Riley December 20, 2020
- Alberta Awards 11 Coal Leases in SW Alberta for $36 a Hectare. By: Kim Siever December 18, 2020.
- Medicine Hat News Commentary. Letter to the Editor: “First They Come For the Coal…” By: Lorne Fitch December 11, 2020
- CBC: Alberta Government Wants to Rewrite the Water Use Rules Along Eastern Slopes of Rockies. By: Drew Anderson December 7, 2020.
- The Tyee: Threatened By Coal, Rancher’s Take the Kenney Government to Court. By: Andrew Nikiforuk December 7, 2020.
- Alberta Wilderness: Continuing the Sacrifice of the Eastern Slopes to Old King Coal. December 4, 2020
- The Tyee: BC’s Coal Mining Has Failed to Deliver, Finds report. By: Andrew Nikiforuk December 3, 2020
- Alberta Wilderness: Meet the Australian Companies behind the Grassy Mountain Project. November 30, 2020
- CBC: Historic Alberta Coal Community Wrestles With Plans for New Mining. By: Tony Seskus, Robson Fletcher October 27, 2020
- The Tyee: Alberta’s Environment Minister Cheered on Coal Mining in New Areas before Restrictions Were Dropped By: Andrew Nikiforuk August 12, 2020
- Alberta Energy Regulator’s permitting process proves to be anything but rigorous By: Becky Best-Bertwistle, Katie Morrison and Drew Yewchuck July 10, 2020
- The Lethbridge Herald:The Risks of Surface Mining by Richard Quinlan July 22, 2020
- CBC: Bringing Coal Back by Robson Fletcher, Drew Anderson, & Jordan Omstead. July7, 2020
- APTN: Regional Chief says First Nations Not Consulted as Alberta loosens Open Pit Mining Rules. By: Chris Stewart May 25,2020
- Alberta Views: The Plans to Strip-Mine Coal in the Mountains: A threat to the Eastern Slopes watershed by: Kevin Van Tighem, July1, 2019
- Yale Environment 360: From Canadian Coal Mines, Toxic Pollution That Knows No Borders By Chloe Williams April 1, 2019
- Environmental hazard assessment of Benga Mining’s proposed Grassy Mountain Coal Project 2019
- National Observer: Alberta to Consider Mountaintop Coal Mine for Company Facing Environmental Probe The Canadian Press, September 24, 2015