By Tim Kalinowski on December 11, 2020.
The Alberta Wilderness Association is raising public awareness about the omnipresence of coal mining leases and concerns on the Eastern Slopes, and the province’s recent offering of new coal mining leases in what used to be referred to as Category 2 lands under the Coal Policy.
“I think the fact the government went ahead with the lease sale just provided a good opportunity to highlight how much of the Eastern Slopes was Category 2 lands,” said Ian Urquhart, conservation director with the AWA. “With Category 2 lands you could as a coal company apply for a lease, and you could do limited exploration work. But surface mining was prohibited for all intents and purposes.
“With the change in the Coal Policy, and the revoking of the Coal Policy, now companies can have ambitions to develop those leases for surface mining which would have been very unlikely under the Coal Policy.”
Urquhart said there does seem to be increasing public awareness about the potential damage of surface mining of coal since the Joint Review Panel held hearings on Australian mining giant Benga’s attempts to develop its Grassy Mountain Project coal mine last month.
“I do think those who intervened against Benga’s proposal made some very good arguments about what the problems are in this particular project,” said Urquhart, “what the uncertainties of the project are. I do think in reading the transcripts
“I think there were any number of places where Benga doesn’t have good answers for the people are asking them; whether it’s about species at risk like West Slope cutthroat trout or whether it is respect to cumulative effects, and how they are going to manage for these effects in the future. I am very optimistic at the very least the review panel will come back next year with a report that, at the very least, puts very strict conditions on what Benga can do.”
Urquhart obviously still hoped the Joint Review Panel would, in the end, rule against the Grassy Mountain Project, but he said he had least had confidence in the integrity of the engagement process to this point, particularly from federal government officials.
“The next step is for the Joint Review Panel to submit their recommendations on Grassy Mountain in June of 2021,” he explained. “I think between now and June we (at the AWA and our partners) will continue to try to raise awareness about what’s going on. For the AWA, our focus is going to be on Grassy Mountain because we certainly see Grassy Mountain as the thin edge of the wedge when it comes to coal in the foothills.”
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