Alberta Politics
Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Reports on controversial coal mining plans received, says Alberta energy minister, providing little additional information

Posted on December 30, 2021, 1:43 am
7 mins

Midpoint between the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage yesterday issued an 85-word statement saying the government’s Coal Policy Committee has submitted its final report and recommendations on Alberta’s long-term approach to coal mining.

In addition, the five-member committee chaired by National Energy Board member Ron Wallace submitted another report on public engagement with the highly controversial issue.

Opposition NDP Environment Critic Marlin Schmidt (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Of the 85 words in Ms. Savage’s statement, 40 were devoted to a pro forma expression of gratitude to the members of the committee for their work and to citizens, communities, First Nations, and organizations that took part in the process.

So that leaves just 45 words for us to attempt to suss out where the consistently secretive Kenney Government is going with this. 

As was doubtless intended, that’s rather skimpy evidence on which to base conclusions, but still enough to draw a few inferences. 

First of all, the timing is evocative, sending word of the thrice-delayed report into a journalistic black hole obviously selected to ensure even less attention is paid to it than an announcement on a Friday before a long weekend, the traditional time for governments to dump problem information. 

Add to this the short and uninformative nature of the statement, and it seems likely the government understands that one way or the other the report is going to present it with an issues-management challenge. 

The only news in Ms. Savage’s statement other than the fact the reports are now in the hands of the government was a vague reference to the timing of when the recommendations might be made public. “The government will take the necessary time to review the reports’ findings and recommendations carefully before they are released publicly.” 

As University of Calgary environmental and resources law professor Martin Z. Olszynski observed in a tweet yesterday, “the longer they take to release it, the more problematic it is for them.”

University of Calgary law professor Martin Z. Olszynski (Photo: Twitter).

This is fair, but given the history of this issue and the fact a provincial election is scheduled for 2023, it’s hard to imagine how it cannot be a problem for Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party. 

Readers will recall that a year ago, a huge brouhaha erupted when Albertans learned the Kenney Government had auctioned off coal leases on the Eastern Slopes of the Rockies for a song.

One 15-year lease for 1,853 hectares of the pristine southeastern Alberta region with the potential to do incalculable environmental damage went for $66,562.62 to a couple of Australian coal mining corporations that want to haul away steel-making coal from an open-pit mine.

The previous May, on the Friday before a long weekend and without any public consultation, the government removed a strict prohibition on coal mining on the Eastern Slopes that had been put in place by the Progressive Conservative Government of premier Peter Lougheed in 1976. 

When the lease auction was revealed, the reaction was fierce. More than 100,000 Albertans lent their signatures to petitions opposing the plan to use open pit mining to remove a fossil fuel that has a diminishing market and the potential to leach poisons into drinking water supplies in Canada and the United States.

The late Peter Lougheed, Progressive Conservative premier of Alberta (Photo: University of Alberta Faculty of Law).

Facing the uproar, the government scrambled to give the impression it was backing off. 

On Jan. 18, 2021, Ms. Savage issued a statement saying, “We have listened carefully to the concerns raised in recent days, and thank those who spoke up with passion,” and promising that “we will pause future coal lease sales in former Category 2 lands.” (Emphasis added.)

Coal leases from the December 2020 auction were cancelled.

“This pause will provide our government with the opportunity to ensure that the interests of Albertans, as owners of mineral resources, are protected,” Ms. Savage said.

The committee, described by the government as independent, was struck to consult with the public on how coal development should be managed. It was supposed to report by Nov. 15. 

In addition to Mr. Wallace, its members are Lougheed-era PC environment minister Fred Bradly, Hinton and District Chamber of Commerce Director Natalie Charlton, Livingston Landowners Group President Bill Trafford, and Piikani Nation member Eric North Peigan.

The committee’s mandate was limited only to matters related to coal under the administration of the energy minister.

Coal Policy Committee Chair Ron Wallace (Photo: Government of Alberta).

In her January announcement, Ms. Savage tipped her hand to where the government hoped to go with the scheme when she added: “Coal development remains an important part of the Western Canadian economy, especially in rural communities, but we are committed to demonstrating that it will only be developed responsibly under Alberta’s modern regulatory standards and processes.”

Marlin Schmidt, the Opposition NDP’s environment critic, responded yesterday to Ms. Savage with a call for the government to release the report immediately. 

“Enough obstruction,” he said. “Albertans have made it very clear that they do not want coal mining in our most precious landscapes. Experts have made it very clear that coal mining in the Eastern Slopes would damage our watersheds and would cost the province more than it would benefit. … There is zero reason to hold this report hostage from Albertans.”

12 Comments to: Reports on controversial coal mining plans received, says Alberta energy minister, providing little additional information

  1. Bob Raynard

    December 30th, 2021

    It looks like the next government will be on the hook for millions of dollars of cancellation penalties when they revoke the leases. Sadly, it means the right wing commentators will have something else to point their fingers at when they claim the Notley government are a bunch of spendthrifts.

  2. Abs

    December 30th, 2021

    $66,562.62. What’s that? The cost of a blue pickup truck?

    • David Climenhaga

      December 30th, 2021

      Abs: Not even! DJC

  3. lungta

    December 30th, 2021

    Hola DJC
    Was hoping you could breach the blue paywall to find out exactly what and the wording of the UPC AGM COAL resolution to suspend the moratorium was too.
    the paywall amazes me
    tho as a group they can have horrible beliefs
    but in public not act on them to the extent they would like too
    so jason
    with fingers crossed awaits the rapture and the destruction of non believers i guess
    mini martyr that he is in his own mind
    he will prevail

  4. Just Me

    December 30th, 2021

    I see than Sonya Savage has her Cesar Romero face on again.

    She’s the Joker playing one savage joke on Alberta.

    • CovKid

      December 30th, 2021

      Looks more like a rodent to me.

  5. Scotty on Denman

    December 30th, 2021

    The coal thing isn’t about feasibility—obviously! It’s about fleeceability. K-Boy and his gang of UCPishers are so obsessed with jump-starting identity politics, they fail to identify the big ole whale shark they’re smugly lining up their springboard with. It’s hard to tell sometimes whether this conceit is organic or uncanny mastery of mendacity—but nobody jumps the shark pretending to be ironic. Diabolical or incompetent, as whatever it is wears thinner and thinner with the electorate it really doesn’t matter: it’s a given that the UCP isn’t purposely trying to earn voters’ disaffection. So irony it probably is, then.

    I think the real purpose of this stupid coal policy was (tense intentional) to provoke protest from the same kind of people whom the UCP identifies with opposing expansion of bitumen mining and smelting, and then to associate their supposed ‘guilt’ with Rachel Notley and her NDP, the UCP’s increasingly popular rival, in good time before the next election.

    We here in BC saw the same ploy when the governing BC Liberal party of ultra-market-fundamentalism, unsurprisingly worried the increasingly popular NDP might defeat it and expose 16 years of perfidy that would condemn the BC Liberals’ hope of ever regaining power again, peddled the slogan that branded the Dippers as “the party of NO!” —that the Dippers (and Greens who eventually supported the subsequent NDP in toppling the BC Liberals’ one-seat minority) would simply say NO to any and all resource development in a province which depends a lot on it. IMHO, Kenney et al were attempting the same, correctly presuming that Dippers would protest the coal proposal.

    But K-Boy probably didn’t expect protest from his own supporters as well. That was the thing that gave the UCP cabinet a sudden onset of rumpley shriveldickitis. Minister Savage’s “pause” seems to have more than just Sasquatch paws all over it.

    Such a mauling was probably a shock back when the coal policy was announced, as the quick retreat indicated. But now that the UCP, K-Boy and the party, have sunk so low in the polls with such little time left and every expectation of mounting challenges from just about every quarter, the current “pause” is either to assuage the terror of pending doom or to try reconciling at least some of the support they lost because of the coal thing by shit-canning the whole idea.

    And to do the latter—the proper thing—would be to unravel the UCP universe.

    It must be getting tense in there.

  6. JS bow valley

    December 30th, 2021

    Their own figures released that the kananaskis double cross, I meant pass, made ten million in the first half of the year and this is still the plan for the eastern slopes but no more parkland. People from Jasper to Banff to the Crowsnest and on to the us border are starved for affordable outdoor space and this is still the plan. Regular rocket surgeons.

  7. Dave

    December 30th, 2021

    I believe the UCP has come to its own conclusions about coal mining. The only problem for them is trying to find a way to implement them that does not hurt them much further electorally. So at this point, they will delay for a while as they try to figure out some way do that. I doubt this will be successful.

    A long delay will not help, but I suspect at least this issue will be put off for a little while not to cause short term problems, such as with Kenney’s upcoming leadership review. It is ironic to me that in the same week TransAlta announced it has stopped using coal in its power plants anyone would still think there was much of a future in coal. However, the UCP and Kenney seem to be really stuck in the past. It is particularly striking that a provincial government from the 1970’s still comes across as forward looking when compared to the current UCP.

  8. Just Me

    December 31st, 2021

    I see what is being played here by the UCP is the raging selling and the destruction of Alberta’s natural heritage for the sake of mere pennies in compensation. Why is that?

    Well, the one thing I like to say is that everyone living in Alberta is from somewhere else. That is to say Alberta is, in fact, populated by people who only go there, on a basic level, to work and, on a more esoteric level, to pillage. With no attachments to Alberta and no interest in preserving them, this is the sort of person that rules Alberta these days.

    And why should they care? Many of them prefer to live in Arizona or Palm Springs. And others would rather preserve their real homes, in Newfoundland and other provinces. These are the sort of people who claim to have Alberta’s interests, but they are forever plotting its destruction.

  9. A little bird

    December 31st, 2021

    The longer they take the less time they have to destroy the province before we can repeal the legacies of this horribly corrupt and inept administration.

  10. Carlos

    December 31st, 2021

    It is amazing anyone with a brain could even think of 66 thousand dollars to be a good deal !!
    Only Jason Kenney and his team can actually dream of polluting everything for a deal like this – I bet the royalties were waved because of course it will mean a better deal for the private company and the possible benefits under the table
    Another problem to be resolved in the future when we have to deal with an open pit mine in the Parks.
    The usual grand vision of the UCP – not a surprise anymore.


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