The Alberta government says it is reinstating the 1976 coal policy it revoked last spring after much public backlash.
The province said Monday morning this move includes reinstating the four coal categories which dictated where and how coal leasing, exploration and development could occur.
Energy Minister Sonya Savage also issued a directive to the Alberta Energy Regulator so 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.
Category 2 lands include parts of the southern Rocky Mountains and the foothills. All future coal exploration approvals on Category 2 lands will be prohibited pending widespread consultations on a new coal policy, the province said.
“Albertans have spoken loud and clear and we have heard them,” Savage said in a media release.
“Not only we will 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.”
The previous policy, put in place in 1976 under Peter Lougheed’s Progressive Conservatives, took two years to develop.
The Alberta government quietly rescinded the policy last May without public consultation.
“We should have done better and we admit we didn’t get this one right. We’re not perfect and Albertans sure let us know that,” Savage said during a news conference Monday.
“We could have done a better job.”
Mountaintop coal mining ‘will never be allowed in Alberta’: Energy Minister Savage
The policy protected a wide swath of the province’s foothills and mountains from coal mines.
Savage said the policy was “obsolete” and “predated our modern understanding on climate change.”
After the policy was revoked, communities throughout Alberta voiced outrage and called for the old rules to be reinstated. Environmental groups, ranchers and First Nations have taken the province to court in an attempt to get a judge to force the United Conservative government to reconsider.
Late last week, the government hinted that changes were in the works to the unpopular plan to open up huge areas of previously unmined areas to open-pit coal mining on the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains.
Savage said there are currently six coal projects being explored on Category 2 lands, four of which began exploration under the 1976 coal policy. Two applications were approved after the 1976 coal policy was rescinded.
“It’ll be up to companies to determine how they manage their coal exploration programs. We don’t intend to remove approvals that were already granted by the regulator.”
The province said widespread public consultation will now be held with Albertans. Details on the process will be released in the coming weeks. A timeline for the consultation process is not yet known.
“The consultation will be rigorous, it will be lengthy, it will hear the input of all Albertans on all views related to coal,” Savage said. “We want to take the time and get this right.”
With files from The Canadian Press.
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.