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Alberta town endorses community-developed policy saying no to coal mining in Rockies

High River has joined 30 organizations in signing a document pushing prohibition of coal in Alberta
A sign opposing coal development in the eastern slopes of the Livingston range south west of Longview, Alta., Wednesday, June 16, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

A southern Alberta town has become what it says is the first municipality to endorse a community-developed policy that calls for a ban on new coal exploration and development in the Rocky Mountains.

“We’ve always wanted to keep our involvement in continuing this fight until we’ve reached the finish line — and we’re a long ways away from that yet,” said Craig Snodgrass, mayor of High River.

The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society said Wednesday that High River has joined 30 organizations in signing a document called “A Coal Policy for Alberta — 2022 and Beyond.”

Katie Morrison, executive director for the southern Alberta chapter of the society, said the document draws on a resolution made by the town of High River last year.

“It really did address clearly how we could address the concerns of Albertans and permanently prohibit coal in Alberta and immediately make that step,” Morrison said in an interview.

The policy, she said, outlines ways to deal with Albertans’ concerns by saying no to new coal exploration and mines, phasing out existing coal mines and coming up with a remediation plan for lands disturbed by mining.

Snodgrass said the document keeps the conversation about coal going.

“This group that put this document together did an excellent job and it’s just the next step of what needs to happen to fulfil the wishes of Albertans in putting an end to coal mining.”

The policy was created by a wide range of Albertans, including Indigenous groups, hunters, anglers, ranchers, rural landowners, businesses, conservationists and recreationists.

“The government and all parties should reflect on the directives in this policy and adopt them and implement them toward a new modern coal policy for the province,” said Morrison.

No one from Alberta Energy or Alberta Environment could immediately be reached for comment.

The United Conservative government two years ago revoked protection from coal development on the summits and foothills in southwestern Alberta that had been in place since 1976.

Thousands of hectares were quickly leased for exploration, but a public outcry forced the government to halt those activities and pause lease sales.

In March, the government renewed and expanded restrictions in response to strong public outcry and two reports written following extensive consultations. Coal development was blocked on all the land covered by the original policy until land-use plans, which require public consultation and legislative approval, are complete.

Ron Wallace, who was the chairman of the province’s coal committee, said he’s pleased the government accepted the committee’s recommendations.

“We’re looking forward very much to seeing policies and procedures that are brought forward by the government of Alberta that actually implement those recommendations,” he said.

Wallace said he has received a copy of the community document.

“It looks like their work is pretty much based upon and consistent with the work of the coal policy committee,” he said. “In that regard, I am really pleased to see the momentum and the interest that is going forward on this file.

“This report will be of value to the government of Alberta as it develops its implementation plans to deal with our recommendations.”

—Colette Derworiz, The Canadian Press

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