Effective immediately, all new coal-related exploration and development activities in the Eastern Slopes are restricted. A new, expanded ministerial order will remain in place until direction on coal activities has been embedded in new or updated land-use plans to support the unique needs of the area. The reinstated 1976 coal policy also remains in place.
The expanded restrictions and enhanced land-use planning measures are a direct response to recommendations made in the Coal Policy Committee’s final reports.
The Alberta government accepts the findings of the Coal Policy Committee and will look to address its other recommendations by updating, strengthening or reinforcing existing regulations and legislation in the future. Input received through Indigenous engagement will also inform the government’s decisions related to coal.
“We’re committed to protecting the Eastern Slopes. The Coal Policy Committee’s reports and Indigenous engagement make it clear that modernizing Alberta’s management of coal resources is a complex undertaking and must be done with care. By keeping the 1976 coal policy firmly in place and halting coal activity in the Eastern Slopes, we are acting on the committee’s recommendation and allowing for additional planning for this unique area.”
“The Alberta government is providing additional clarity around land use in the Eastern Slopes for coal development, building on the province’s strong regulatory framework for responsible resource development.”
Coal Policy Committee reports
From March to September 2021, the Coal Policy Committee heard from a diverse mix of Albertans and Indigenous communities. The committee carefully considered the perspectives and thoughts they received and summarized them into two reports:
- an engagement report that provides in-depth detail about what they heard
- a final report that contains eight principal recommendations and 20 related action items for the long-term management of Alberta’s coal resources
“Coal is an important topic to Albertans, and it was clear from the start that the engagement process would be dynamic. The Coal Policy Committee embraced our responsibility as an independent voice. We were guided by the wide range of thoughtful input we received from Albertans and Indigenous Peoples – and that is reflected in our reports and recommendations.”
Recommendations from the committee include actions to modernize Alberta’s coal policy, strengthen Indigenous involvement in land-use planning, review coal tenure and royalty regimes, and ensure any proposed projects are rigorously assessed using net benefit tests. The committee’s reports are available online.
Alberta’s government will address the committee’s concerns and recommendations about the long-term management of coal resources through existing and updated regulations and land-use planning activities, many of which are underway.
Expanding restrictions in the Eastern Slopes
A new ministerial order expands the halt of coal exploration in Category 2 lands to also include exploration and development in Category 3 and 4 lands, as defined by the 1976 coal policy. The restriction on activity on Category 2 lands has been in place since April 2021.
Under the new, expanded restrictions on coal activity:
- All existing legislation related to coal activities and Alberta’s rigorous regulatory system remain in place.
- The 1976 coal policy also continues to apply across the province.
- Activities already in progress for active mines and advanced projects can continue, as can activities related to security or safety.
- Abandonment and reclamation activities can resume.
These new restrictions will remain in place until additional direction on coal activities can be embedded into new or updated land-use plans.
Land-use planning in Alberta considers multiple uses and the cumulative impacts of various activities on our landscape. Land-use plans are informed by comprehensive consultation with Albertans, Indigenous communities and other stakeholders.
Additional clarity regarding land use and coal activities will be put in place through an update to include the coal categories in Alberta’s Eastern Slopes policy in the coming months, and through the development of new regional, sub-regional or issue-specific plans. A mandatory 10-year review of the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan, required by the Alberta Land Stewardship Act to start by September 2024, could also inform future changes. Public and Indigenous consultation is required to inform new land-use plans and any amendments to them.
While land-use planning will provide direction regarding coal mining activities, Alberta’s rigorous regulatory processes will continue to be employed to assess the potential impacts of a proposed coal project and, if deemed to be in the public interest, ensure that appropriate rules, limits and oversight are in place to protect the environment.
Alberta’s regulation of the coal industry requires an environmental impact assessment for large-scale coal projects, a multi-year process that includes significant consultation with the public and Indigenous communities, and a robust assessment of environmental, economic and social benefits and risks to determine if the project is in the public interest. If approved, provincial and federal regulations set operating requirements, including conditions for environmental monitoring, emissions and effluent management for air and wastewater quality, and notifications and reporting. The Alberta Energy Regulator ensures compliance.
- The Coal Policy Committee received a broad range of input from:
- more than 170 technical submissions, 88 of which were posted online
- more than 1,000 direct emails
- more than 70 meetings with interested parties, including industry, NGOs, Indigenous representatives, academia, subject matter experts and 15 municipalities
- bilateral meetings and virtual roundtables with approximately 35 Indigenous communities
- three tours of coal-producing regions
- nearly 25,000 responses to the survey initiated by the government
- Exploration and development is now restricted in the Eastern Slopes in Category 2, 3 and 4 lands as defined by the 1976 coal policy.
- Coal exploration and development has never been allowed in Category 1 lands, which include national parks, provincial parks, wildlife sanctuaries, etc.
- Over the past year, Environment and Parks has launched the following initiatives as part of its efforts to continually improve Alberta’s regulatory system:
- A selenium management review to examine Alberta’s current regulatory requirements and assess relevant policy tools used in comparable jurisdictions.
- New surface water quality management frameworks for the North Saskatchewan, Battle and upper Athabasca rivers to protect water quality and manage cumulative effects.
- A review of the Mine Financial Security Program to ensure it adequately covers the industry’s reclamation liabilities and protects taxpayers.
- Environment and Parks is currently monitoring water quality, including selenium levels, at 116 river and tributary sites across Alberta, plus an additional 31 tributary sites through the oil sands monitoring program.
- Alberta will continue to provide its feedback to Environment and Climate Change Canada about the federal Coal Mining Effluent Regulations, which are expected to be finalized by the end of 2023.