November 28th, 2021

Addressing the Coal Policy


By Lethbridge Herald Opinion on February 12, 2021.

Nathan Neudorf – MLA, Lethbridge East

In the recent weeks I’ve heard many questions and concerns voiced about the 1976 Coal Policy. I know the environment and protection of our natural spaces is a very important issue to Albertans and I want to clear the air about what the recent policy updates actually represent. In response to the concerns raised by Albertans about the lack of clarity on project development, we reinstated the 1976 Coal Policy, including the 4 coal categories, on February 8. With the Environmental Enhancement Act and the Eastern Slopes Coal Policy, and now the return of the four categories, we have stronger and clearer protections for our environment than ever before, but there is more work to do.

One project whose progress has been incorrectly attributed to the policy change is the Grassy Mountain Coal Project, which has been in the review and approvals process for almost six years-well before the coal policy was removed in June 2020. To give some background – the provincial review process began on September 29, 2014, when the project leads submitted a description to the Alberta Energy Regulator. On May 14, 2015, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency made the determination that a federal environmental assessment was required for this project. The government of Alberta has no authority or jurisdiction on this matter, which is why the NDP did not interfere in the process when they were in government and is also why our UCP government has remained arms-length in this process.

With the reinstatement of the coal policy, land will again be placed into four categories, with each category designating the use and environmental parameters of its respective land. To borrow language from this policy, the Grassy Mountain project is located on category 4 land, meaning there is no restriction to the type of development proposed. The spirit of the coal policy has been updated multiple times over the last 45 years with more modern, stringent, and effective regulatory legislation such as the Environmental Enhancement Act and the Eastern Slopes Coal Policy. In other words, little has changed with rescission and reinstatement of this policy as much of the protections and regulations we follow have been in place for many years already. As Minister Savage said on February 8, no mountain-top removal will be permitted at all. Additionally, to continue to protect environmentally sensitive and recreational land along Alberta’s eastern slopes, as well as category 1 lands that will continue to be protected and with no leasing, exploration or development being allowed.

I think it’s vital to ensure our province is a predictable place to invest in, as well as a world leader in responsible resource development. Reinstating the coal categories specified in the 1976 policy does not provide or remove any additional permissions regarding coal development and leases, it only gives the company holding the lease coal rights in that parcel of land, which they can only produce after and if they get all of the requisite regulatory approvals. And just like all other natural resource commodities, after obtaining the rights they will follow a strict regulatory review process. All coal project applications must be submitted to the Alberta Energy Regulator-or a Joint Review Panel if the project requires federal assessment like Grassy Mountain-and are reviewed based on their merit, environmental impact, and other metrics, including water protection and mitigation (which is not even mentioned in the 1976 policy).

There is also some confusion surrounding lease agreements for coal mining. To clarify this, a coal lease does not guarantee that a project will proceed. Rather, a lease grants the mining company first rights to the minerals on the property, it does not permit any exploration or development. Additional permits are required in order to build access roads or drill exploratory holes (which should be fully reclaimed at the end of the project) and all aspects of development are subject to rigorous environmental checks. As previously announced, all category 2 leases will remain paused until consultation with Albertans and companies concludes.

Finally, Albertans are concerned about selenium levels in water sources. This concern is of utmost importance to me, as water is one of our most valuable shared resources. I appreciate the high standards we have in place, and I believe we need to go even further with water purification and protection measures. Mine operators are required to manage selenium levels in water, which includes submitting a selenium management plan to the AER with detailed information about risks and how to mitigate them. On top of this, selenium levels are also routinely monitored as part of Alberta’s extensive river monitoring network. The balance between environmental protection and economic development is extremely important to Albertans. Our government continues to support sustainable development within the framework of strong environmental protections that have been developed over the decades since the 1976 coal policy was introduced.

As the member for Lethbridge-East, I support responsible development of our natural resources and will advocate for fuller measures on land reclamation, as well as the highest levels in water purification and protection standards. I have also heard very clearly that people in Lethbridge are not interested in coal mining in recreationally and ecologically-significant areas of the Eastern slopes, and want their water protected, particularly for our agricultural and food corridor, and I will represent that position in Legislature. As a note in closing, I am working hard to progress some Lethbridge-based innovative thinking on mini-nuclear power generation. This is clean, safe, technologically advanced and I believe, could be a strong substantive option for our energy future. Alberta will continue to uphold our province’s rigorous environmental standards and only allow projects that are proven to be safe, responsible and worthwhile.

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Southern Albertan

For more revealing info on the ‘Coal Fiasco,’ an excellent letter to the editor in the Feb 10th issue of The Macleod Gazette by Linda Ripley is well worth reading….”Don’t trust process on open pit mines.” She has info in this letter that myself, who has been following this coal fiasco closely, didn’t even know.
http://www.fortmacleodgazette.com
Also, this, but, read further into the blog, Kevin Van Tighem’s comments and observations:
“In dizzying turnaround, Alberta abandons plan to drop Lougheed-era coal policy….for now.”
http://www.albertapolitics.ca
And, Jolayne Davidson Gardner, Director of the Southern Alberta Land Trust Society (SALTS), and a rancher at her family’s Bluebird Valley Ranch, has stated re: the “Coal Policy” announcement, that “nothing has changed.” Her partner, Cam Gardner, was the AB NDP candidate for the Livingstone-Macleod riding in the 2019 provincial election. Many of us in this riding, who knew that a Kenney UCP majority would be a disaster, voted for him. He is well versed on this area, and has served as Reeve and Councillor for the Municipal District of Ranchland.
Do not be fooled or hoodwinked by what the Kenney UCP, et al, have to say about this “Coal Fiasco.” Coal exploration is still going on in this pertinent headwaters backcountry. Hikers have gone there and seen the mess in ‘restricted’ exploration areas.
As Shannon Phillips, former Alberta Environment Minister has said, and I, and many (even UCP voters, or now, former voters) wholeheartedly agree, that if the Kenney UCP is really intent on listening to ‘The People,’ they “would cancel and compensate these leases that were given out before the 1976 Policy was rescinded this summer.”
No open-pit coal mines, means….no.

Socrates

Good information. Thank you Mr. Neudorf

Fescue

“Lethbridge-based innovative thinking” on small-nuclear reactors. Hmmmm. Sounds like four votes assured from the Energy Coallegium.

I hope Mr. Neudorf is as enthusiastic about renewable energy and energy efficiency to bridge the 20 years we will have to wait for nuclear modules.

https://www.nrcan.gc.ca/our-natural-resources/energy-sources-distribution/nuclear-energy-uranium/canadas-small-nuclear-reactor-action-plan/21183

biff

haha!

IMO

Is Mr. Neudorf attempting to convince his constituents that they are not in a position to offer up scientific refutation to the assertions he is making in this op-ed?
Did Mr. Neudorf mention the mothballing of water monitoring stations located on Alberta waterways where selenium levels are now higher than acceptable? No, he did not. If there is no data, are we to understand that selenium toxicity does not exist in these waterways?
Did Mr. Neudorf mention that the declining trout species in the Old Man headwaters have been likened to a canary in the coal mine as it pertains to the health and well being of watersheds? No, he did not.
Did Mr. Neudorf address the rising concerns over water flow in the Old Man watershed system and how water allocations work and how the coal corporations are appearing to get around the water licensing issue? No, he did not.
Did Mr. Neudorf discuss how water quantity/quality will impact the South Saskatchewan water basin and those water users not only in Alberta but also in Saskatchewan and Manitoba? No, he did not.
Did Mr. Neudorf mention how the current exploration activities are contributing to landscape destruction, habitat interference and potential for significant silting of streams due to significant run-off events? No, he did not.
Did Mr. Neudorf share the experience of Australian communities laid waste because of surface mining for coal? No, he did not.
Did Mr. Neudorf inform the reader that Montem executive, Rob Tindall, compared Alberta to Western Australia because of the ease in which coal corporations can set up shop? No, he did not.
In his mention of investments, did Mr. Neudorf refer to the mere 1% royalty on coal? No, he did not.
Would it not be more in keeping with democratic principles for MLA Neudorf to terminate this relentless displacing of evidence in a Tom Olsen-like manner by appearing to “disprove true facts”?
In other words, Mr. Neudorf: STOP THE GASLIGHTING!

https://www.stalberttoday.ca/beyond-local/alberta-promises-close-watch-on-new-mines-but-cuts-oversight-of-coal-polluted-rivers-3311311
https://thenarwhal.ca/b-c-stalling-rules-selenium-pollution-coal-mines/
https://thenarwhal.ca/alberta-coal-mining-rockies-oldman-river/
https://thetyee.ca/News/2020/08/12/Alberta-Environment-Minister-Cheered-Coal-Mining/
https://thetyee.ca/News/2020/10/09/Australian-Invasion-Big-Coal-Plans-Alberta/

C. Van Ryk

The “concern” the Alberta government has over the quality of our water supply is reflected in the FACT that the Environmental Quality Guidelines for Alberta Surface Waters (2018) doubled the limit for selenium in our rivers and streams.