Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage, at left (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage said yesterday coal leases from the Kenney Government’s controversial December 2020 auction have been cancelled, but this does not mean as some news media reported that the province has reversed its plan to expand coal mining on the Eastern Slopes of the Rocky Mountains. 

To say it was unpopular to sell a 15-year lease for 1,853 hectares of the pristine southeastern Alberta region for $66,562.62 so that a couple of Australian coal mining corporations could rip the top off a mountain and haul away coal for making steel was a considerable understatement. 

Corb Lund (Photo: The Canadian Encyclopedia).

The sale caused a huge uproar, with more than 100,000 signatures collected by a couple of petitions opposed to the plan for open pit mining to remove a fossil fuel that has shrinking market and the potential to leach poisons into drinking water supplies in Canada and the United States. 

So Ms. Savage undoubtedly spoke the truth when she said in a short statement published yesterday on the government’s website that “we have listened to the concerns raised in recent days.”

That included opposition carolled by a trio of prominent popular Alberta singers, Corb Lund, k.d. lang, and Paul Brandt – which if nothing else illustrates the value of having celebrities on side if you want to change public policy. 

There’s no question there was a day Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Government would have just arrogantly bulled ahead in a situation like this, ignoring all opposition, no matter how in tune with the mood of the province. But bad polling numbers do tend to concentrate the minds of governing parties halfway through their mandates. 

Ms. Savage’s statement is full of qualifiers and needs to be parsed carefully for its real meaning, which is certainly not as cut and dried as yesterday’s news coverage suggested. 

So if you’re wondering if the government is on the ropes, or just playing rope-a-dope and letting its opponents tire themselves out, the answer is probably rope-a-dope.  

Ms. Savage said, “we will pause future coal lease sales in former Category 2 lands.” (Emphasis added.) So right there is a pretty strong signal that there is no plan afoot to restore the Peter Lougheed Government’s strict 1976 prohibition against coal mining on the Eastern Slopes.

k.d. lang (Photo: Charlie Llewellin, Creative Commons).

That policy was quietly removed without consultation by Ms. Savage on the Friday before the May long weekend during the first wave of COVID-19. Sneaky is as sneaky does. 

And while Ms. Savage said “this pause will provide our government with the opportunity to ensure that the interests of Albertans, as owners of mineral resources, are protected,” she immediately went on to say, “coal development remains an important part of the Western Canadian economy, especially in rural communities.”

The reaction of the ranching and farming communities would certainly suggest otherwise, but this nevertheless is a clear enough statement of the government’s intentions. 

“We are committed to demonstrating that it will only be developed responsibly under Alberta’s modern regulatory standards and processes,” Ms. Savage also said, although it is important to remember that the UCP’s idea of modern regulatory standards does not necessarily mean stronger or more effective. 

Paul Brandt (Photo: Paul Brandt Management).

Indeed, it appears to mean the opposite. Consider the mandate of the government’s so-called Ministry of Red Tape Reduction, which is to “reduce the regulatory burden on job creators to encourage investment, boost Alberta’s competitiveness. …” Certainly not to protect the environment or make workplaces safer.

Moreover, Ms. Savage concluded: “This decision has no impact on existing coal projects currently under regulatory review.”

So, while “pausing” a dangerous plan to mine a dirty fossil fuel from an environmentally sensitive region based on questionably optimistic predictions of economic benefits is a positive development, it does not indicate real commitment to either protecting the region or the diversifying Alberta’s economy away from fossil fuels. 

There is no plan to restore the Lougheed Government’s 1976 protections. 

Eight other coal leases sold in May are not affected by this slight policy change. 

The 11 cancelled leases – which could well be back with revisions as soon as things settle down – amount to only 0.13 per cent of the area leased by the government since the Lougheed coal policy was rescinded. 

The government continues with its effort to have the courts toss an application for judicial review of the decision to revoke the coal policy without consultation. 


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  1. Unfortunately, I agree with your assessment. While pausing is good news, it is like winning one battle in a war. I suspect the UCP in this case hopes to retreat a bit, but still continue its fight at a time when it is in a better position to do so.

    One bigger problem here is the scrapping of the 1976 policy. The fact it was around so long and the public was ok with it was a sign it was probably fairly good. Of course, it did not allow the UCP to easily move ahead with coal projects in this area, nor allow its corporate benefactors to get what they wanted. A real victory would be to put this policy back in place and cancel, not just pause these projects.

    It is unfortunate that the UCP’s economic development approach, while casually tossing in words like “modern” for cover, actually still seems to focus on declining and environmentally damaging industries like coal. We meet more than just a pause. We need to go in a different direction.

    1. DAVE: Given what damages these open pit coal mines do, there is no way to reverse that. Damage is damage, and nothing can ever rectify that. Not even a gazillion dollars will cure the affects of what happens. Peter Lougheed knew this, 45 years ago. As we get older, we know that certain past practices can’t continue, because of the harm they cause. The UCP clearly hasn’t learned. The UCP wants to look after the interests of their rich corporate friends, while Albertans are left behind.

  2. More half-measures, lies and deception from the UCP.

    Hopefully enough Albertans see this for what it is and keep up the pressure on a government that seems determined to destroy our headwaters for a pittance.

  3. Of course the RMS UCP Titanic will go full steam ahead like the iceberg is depending on it. Coal is the new Keystone XL, and once the inaugural hubbub hushes up, what else will they have left to do but contaminate the water that flows down into Joe Biden territory? A day without antagonizing the U.S. just isn’t a day in blue sky country.

    If Covid won’t kill off Alberta’s citizens quickly enough, what other choice does the UCP have, really? Selenium is the new salt. Right, Mr. President?

  4. It doesn’t change much, but it does distract people from Kenney’s fiasco with Keystone XL, soon to be known as the world’s longest horizontal water slide.

  5. It’s the usual Bait and Switch shell game employed by the grifters running the province. Remember the Old Man River Dam. They lost some of the most historic,scenic and pristine river valleys in Alberta… for a resevoir and “Jobs”.

  6. It is in no way a good idea to strip mine coal especially when the planet has a huge problem with global warming, but if the Alberta government was keeping 75% of possible revenues for Alberta they might have a stronger case to develop natural resources, but a give away is the ultimate insult to Albertans’ intelligence.

    Far better to diversify the economy to provide lasting employment while doing no harm to anyone in the process.

  7. Tesla electric cars are running on batteries made possible by research done in Nova Scotia at Dalhousie University. Meanwhile in Alberta, Australian coal miners are going to destroy mountain tops in our water sheds for coal that has almost no value.
    Notley’s energy minister was afraid to return to her home and broke down crying in the Legislature, while now the little Savage grins and misleads. Something very wrong with this picture.

  8. This idea will possibly fail because of its potential for environmental devastation. For now think of the worst case scenario should it be forced through.
    Coal would be transported hundreds of kilometers across the Rockies to British Columbia ports. Not through a pipeline. Not on a conveyor belt. Not on truck convoys. Probably on a hundred and thirty five year old single line railway system. Maybe the UCP will use Alberta taxpayers’ money to purchase the necessary rail cars and locomotives, pay for their maintenance and repair, pay for additional railway personnel, pay for the additional track, bridge and tunnel maintenance necessitated by having more trains in use.
    This should be a time to pause and consider how to avoid the pain of further Keystone like fiascos. Well, to a rational politician possessing sound critical faculties it should.

  9. The UCP likes to go backwards, and try ideologies that don’t do anyone any good, save their rich corporate bosom buddies. Albertans don’t benefit. The UCP only responds to public pressure, and this proves they don’t listen to Albertans. If the UCP goes ahead with more open pit coal mining in the Rockies, they are finished. It’s not likely the UCP will remain in power after 2023 anyways. Good on Corb Lund, Paul Brandt, K.D Lang, Jann Arden and Terri Clark for being vocal about this. The UCP are not doing Albertans any favours here.

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