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Alberta’s Coal Mining Reversal: A Dozen Tyee Pieces Tell the Tale

Andrew Nikiforuk’s investigative coverage preceded the public outcry and never let up.

David Beers 9 Feb 2021 |

David Beers is founding editor of The Tyee.

Yesterday the Alberta government surprised by saying it was restoring the Coal Policy, protections established in 1976 against open-pit coal mining in areas of the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains that were quietly scuttled last May with no public consultation.

It’s a clear step-back for the Jason Kenney-led government, though as Tyee contributing editor Andrew Nikiforuk reported yesterday, skeptical critics say the government has merely changed tactics and not direction.

Energy Minister Sonya Savage made it clear she still favours metallurgical coal development in the Rockies, although there should be some “no go” zones.

Nor does the temporary reinstatement of the Coal Policy definitely end the threat of open-pit mining in critical watersheds. Although that historic policy banned surface mining on Category 2 lands, the energy minister can and has granted exemptions, as former NDP energy minister Margaret McCuaig-Boyd did in 2016.

Moreover, Minister Savage promised to ban “mountain top removal” with an Alberta Energy directive that still allows mountain top removal for at least two Australian projects in the Crowsnest Pass located on Category 4 lands.

And the promise of entertaining public consultation on a new Coal Policy that would allow Australian companies to mine the Rockies is problematic, say critics. They point to the government’s last attempt at a public consultation on the foreign funding of environmental campaigns, which has become a public travesty as well as an example of conflict of interest.

Even before the United Conservative Party government killed the Coal Policy, its ministers were signalling Australian coal extractors that it intended to drop the regulations, as Nikiforuk revealed in these pages.

Until a long-building public revolt hit a crescendo in January, the Alberta newspapers gave little notice to the massive metallurgical coal mining in the works for their province. The Globe and Mail began running occasional pieces in December.

But in The Tyee back in August, Nikiforuk lifted the lid on Kenney’s quiet cancelling of the Coal Policy after intensive lobbying on behalf of coal interests led by a former Alberta environment minister. He never let up on the story.

Here are a dozen key Nikiforuk pieces that trace the arc of this issue (and stay tuned for more).

Aug. 3, 2020:

What Kenney Had to Kill to Embrace Coal

Alberta’s 1976 Coal Policy protected vital drinking water supplies for much of the province. That’s gone now.

Aug. 3, 2020:

Alberta Coal Grab: What Is the Sound of One Group Lobbying?

Ask the Coal Association, the only group listened to before Kenney dropped barriers to open-pit mining on the Rockies’ eastern slope.

Oct. 9, 2020:

The Australian Invasion: Big Coal’s Plans for Alberta

Meet the speculators from Down Under aiming to carve up the Rockies with a chain of open-pit mines. And the growing revolt.

Dec. 3, 2020:

BC’s Coal Mining Has Failed to Deliver, Finds Report

Costs exceed benefits say experts who tallied jobs, dollars and habitat destruction.

Dec. 7, 2020:

Threatened by Coal, Ranchers Take the Kenney Government to Court

Alberta is poised to let miners destroy mountaintops and vital watersheds grazed for a century.

Dec. 21, 2020:

Alberta Government Fines Hunter for Trespassing on Australian Coal Lease

Levi Williams-Whitney traversed the land to make a video opposing open-pit mining. He has no regrets.

Jan. 18, 2021:

Singers, Ranchers and Environmentalists Are Now Battling Kenney’s Coal Plan

Province’s move to allow coal mines in protected mountains is creating a rising wave of broad-based opposition.

Jan. 19, 2021:

Alberta’s Cancelled Coal Leases Called a ‘Trick’

An ex-deputy minister terms yesterday’s step back ‘misleading.’ And it won’t deter a court challenge by ranchers and First Nations.

Jan. 25, 2021:

Loads of Coal Disinformation from the Kenney Government

How Alberta’s energy and environment ministers misled on open-pit mining plans.

Jan. 29, 2021:

Months Before Albertans Were Told, Australian Miners Knew Plans to Axe Coal Policy

Investor presentations signalled the Kenney government aimed to open protected lands to open-pit mining.

Feb. 3, 2021:

Trust Alberta’s Energy Regulator to Safeguard Coal Mines?

The Kenney government says yes, but the agency has a messy track record.

Feb. 8, 2021:

Critics Skeptical as Alberta Reverses Course on Open-pit Coal Mines

Five days after Kenney defended the province’s mining push, the government says it was all a big mistake.  [Tyee]

Read more: Energy, Politics, Environment

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