A panel gathering public input on coal mining in the Alberta Rockies has been given another six weeks to hand in its report.
“Due to the extraordinary volume, breadth and depth of the input provided by Albertans, the coal policy committee requested an extension to the deadline for both their engagement and final reports,” said a statement by provincial Energy Minister Sonya Savage.
The panel said it has received more than 1,000 emailed documents and 170 detailed written submissions, along with associated materials from 67 meetings across the province.
In 2020, the United Conservative Party government announced it was cancelling blanket environmental protections that had been in place since the 1970s and making it easier to develop open-pit coal mines in some of the province’s most ecologically sensitive areas.
For decades, wide swaths of the province’s Foothills and Rocky Mountains were off-limits to this type of mining, under what was dubbed the “Coal Policy” of 1976.
The provincial government said the policy was outdated and redundant, and eliminating it would encourage substantial new investment.
However, amid growing pressure from municipal councils, First Nations, environmentalists, country music stars and everyday Albertans, the UCP government reversed course nine months later, saying it was reinstating the 1976 policy, pausing further coal exploration lease sales and halting work in the most sensitive landscapes, to give it time to consult with the public about future changes.
The five-member panel was established in March and was supposed to deliver two reports to Savage on Monday — one summarizing what it heard and another one with recommendations.
The summary report was originally expected in October, making Wednesday’s announcement its second delay.
“The coal policy committee is grateful for the outpouring of interest throughout the engagement process,” said a statement from chairman Ron Wallace. “In fact, we extended the engagement period by two months until the end of September.
“We have requested a deadline extension so that we may better compile, assess and report on the extensive and insightful input submitted.”
Savage promises reports would be reviewed ‘in detail’
Wallace has promised that all submissions made to the committee would be publicly released. He has said most are strongly critical of coal development in the foothills and peaks of the Rockies — a much-loved Alberta landscape and the source of much of the province’s drinking water.
In her statement Wednesday, Savage said the reports would be reviewed “in detail” before they were released.
An analysis from the University of Calgary released Wednesday concludes that a coal mine on protected land on the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains wouldn’t be an overall benefit to Alberta.
A paper from the university’s School of Public Policy says the overall economic, social and environmental impacts of such a development would be negative.
The paper says the latest information on coal markets suggests such a mine would be marginally profitable and that its job and tax benefits would be small in relation to Alberta’s economy.
Meanwhile, a mine would displace ranching and tourism, damage water and wildlife, and create a risk that taxpayers would end up paying for cleanup.
The paper doesn’t refer to any particular coal project, but draws heavily on information presented at the hearings into the Grassy Mountain proposal, which was recently turned down after hearings by provincial and federal regulators.
The delay in the provincial panel’s reports comes as governments from around the world were negotiating at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow about how to build on the Paris Agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect vulnerable countries from the impacts of global warming.
A draft deal released Wednesday calls for pulling the plug on coal power, the single biggest source of man-made greenhouse gas emissions.