A conveyor belt transports coal at the Westmoreland Coal Company’s Sheerness Mine near Hanna, Alta., Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

A conveyor belt transports coal at the Westmoreland Coal Company’s Sheerness Mine near Hanna, Alta., Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Alberta announces five-member coal consultation committee, online survey

‘This is an independent committee that will be fiercely independent’

Alberta has struck a “fiercely independent” five-member committee to assess how people in the province feel about coal mining in the Rocky Mountains.

Energy Minister Sonya Savage said the committee is expected to report by mid-November. Coal exploration in the contested region is expected to continue during that time.

“This process will be extensive and will offer various opportunities for Albertans to get involved,” Savage said Monday.

The committee will be led by Ron Wallace, an environmental scientist who has worked extensively in Canada’s North and was a permanent member of the former National Energy Board. Other members include an area landowner, the director of a small-town chamber of commerce, a former environmental bureaucrat and a member of a local First Nation.

“This is an independent committee that will be fiercely independent,” Wallace said. “(It will be) focused on the views of Albertans and making sure the government of Alberta has a fair understanding of what those views are.”

Savage said the committee will determine for itself how it wants to proceed. Details are to follow.

She also promised a parallel government-to-government consultation with area First Nations. As well, the United Conservative government has opened an online survey that will be available until April 19.

Craig Snodgrass, the mayor of High River, Alta., whose council strongly opposes new coal mines in the Rockies, said he was happy with the makeup of the committee.

“‘Fiercely independent’ from the government is exactly what needs to happen,” he said. “There’s a balance there for the most part.”

Snodgrass noted the committee contains no municipal government voices, despite the fact 27 municipal councils have expressed concern about the expansion of mining in the Rockies.

Katie Morrison of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society said independence will be a crucial issue for the panel.

“It remains to be seen how that panel actually works,” she said.

She said the online survey seems to be nudging Albertans in the direction of how they want coal to be mined, rather than whether they want it mined at all.

“We don’t need a new coal policy,” she said. “We need a land use plan and a vision for this region.”

Environment critic Marlin Schmidt with the Opposition New Democrats agreed.

“There are no questions in the survey about water quality and water quantity, and that raises questions about whether these topics will be in the scope of the consultation.”

Brad Johnston, chief development officer for Cabin Ridge coal, one company that has been active in the region, said it supports the consultation process.

“We appreciate the questions being raised about development and think they are fair and appropriate,” he said in an email. “We look forward to participating in the consultation and offering our views on responsible steel making coal development in Alberta.”

Cabin Ridge has already been working with local people, he added.

Coal mining in the province has been intensely controversial since the UCP government announced last spring, without public consultation, that it had revoked a policy preventing surface coal mines since 1976. It was developed after years of public consultation by the Progressive Conservatives under Peter Lougheed.

Last month, Savage reinstated the policy and promised to listen to public concerns.

Schmidt pointed out that striking another advisory committee means companies with exploration leases bought after the original coal policy was revoked can proceed with more drilling and roadbuilding.

“If the UCP were sincere about their desire to consult with Albertans, they would have halted all coal exploration activities, or started this process last year when they rescinded the 1976 Lougheed Coal Policy to begin with.”

Maps compiled by Morrison’s group using government information have shown the Alberta Energy Regulator approved impacts from coal exploration that exceed guidelines laid out in a land use plan that’s supposed to be legally binding.

“There are companies out there drilling and roadbuilding and causing damage to that landscape before the future of that landscape has been decided.”

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta completed 18,412 COVID-19 tests, as reported on Wednesday, for a test positivity rate of 9.5 per cent. (NIAID-RML via AP)
Highest daily count of 2021 so far: Alberta reports 1,699 COVID-19 cases

Variants now make up 59 per cent of Alberta’s active cases

Screen grab/ https://www.alberta.ca/stats/covid-19-alberta-statistics.htm#geospatial
COVID-19 cases continue to grow in the Wetaskiwin area

The City of Wetaskiwin currently has 141 active cases.

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw and Premier Jason Kenney say the province would look at adding additional COVID-19 measures in the coming weeks if the virus continues to spread. (Photo by Government of Alberta)
Walk-in COVID-19 vaccination clinic to open in Red Deer

Alberta adds 1,345 new cases of the virus

Boston Pizza is one of the Wetaskiwin restaurants currently setting up a patio for in-person dining. Shaela Dansereau/ Pipestone Flyer.
City of Wetaskiwin to wave permit fees for temporary patio applications

City of Wetaskiwin Council unanimously carried a motion at the regular April… Continue reading

Kevin Buffalo in his traditional chicken dance regalia. (Photo submitted)
3rd Inaugural Grouse Symposium goes online

Virtual symposium will be held April 24

A lone traveler enters the Calgary Airport in Calgary, Alta., Monday, Feb. 22, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
VIDEO: Trudeau defends Canada’s travel restrictions as effective but open to doing more

Trudeau said quarantine hotels for international air travellers will continue until at least May 21

President Joe Biden holds a virtual bilateral meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
U.S. to help Canada with more COVID-19 vaccine supply, Biden says

The U.S. has already provided Canada with about 1.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine

In this image from video, former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin, center, is taken into custody as his attorney, Eric Nelson, left, looks on, after the verdicts were read at Chauvin’s trial for the 2020 death of George Floyd, Tuesday, April 20, 2021, at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis, Minn. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Court TV via AP, Pool
George Floyd’s death was ‘wake-up call’ about systemic racism: Trudeau

Derek Chauvin was found guilty Tuesday on all three charges against him

sign
Alberta Biobord Corp. recently hosted a virtual open house from Stettler

The company plans to develop a fuel pellet and medium density fibre board (MDF) plant near the community

Ryan Applegarth. (RCMP photo)
Preliminary hearing date set for Applegarth

Ryan Jake Applegarth appeared briefly before the Ponoka Provincial Court over CCTV… Continue reading

The Rogers logo is photographed in Toronto on Monday, September 30, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tijana Martin
Rogers investigating after wireless customers complain of widespread outage

According to Down Detector, problems are being reported in most major Canadian cities

People are shown at a COVID-19 vaccination site in Montreal, Sunday, April 18, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Nothing stopping provinces from offering AstraZeneca vaccine to all adults: Hajdu

Health Canada has licensed the AstraZeneca shot for use in people over the age of 18

Most Read