Alberta Coal Policy scrapped, making open-pit coal mining more accessible than ever along the eastern slopes of the Rockies

Alberta is cancelling a long-standing coal policy that provided broad protections within our mountain and foothill regions, making it easier to develop open-pit mines in more ecologically sensitive areas. 

Edmonton – On May 15, 2020 the Government of Alberta announced that they were rescinding  A Coal Development Policy for Alberta (Coal Policy) which has provided sweeping environmental protections for coal development since the 1970’s. This has raised concerns about how this will impact Alberta’s treasured mountains and foothills along the eastern slopes of the Rockies.

“There are currently no other land use plans or policies that fulfill a similar role as what was provided for under the coal policy.” says Chris Smith, Parks Coordinator at CPAWS Northern Alberta. “This gap leaves sensitive headwaters regions and treasured landscapes at risk to the long-term, and in some cases, irreversible, impacts that come with surface coal mining and increased exploration.”

Two specific provincial government policies have long safeguarded the source areas of our drinking water here in Alberta. These policies, A Policy for Resource Management of the Eastern Slopes (1984) and A Coal Development Policy for Alberta (1976) have provided important land use zoning frameworks which have informed management and development along the eastern slopes region of Alberta since their inception. 

The Coal Policy’s Land Classification System has traditionally prevented coal development on Category 1 lands and restricted development to underground or in-situ mining under Category 2 lands along the eastern slopes. The Coal Policy Category 2 covers 702,000 ha (35%) of the watersheds that supply Edmonton with the majority of its drinking water, an area where approvals for open-pit coal mines will now be possible and likely. 

In their announcement on these changes, the government claimed that modern regulatory, land use planning and leasing systems make the Coal Policy obsolete. However, Alberta currently does not yet have modern, updated regional land use plans for most of the eastern slopes region. This raises concerns that Alberta’s sensitive headwaters regions will be at an increased risk of cumulative industrial impacts, such as open pit coal mines moving forward. A recent news article has even stated that there are several mines on Category 2 lands that will now move forward as a result of the rescission of the Coal Policy.

“These changes mark yet another reduction in environmental protections that came with no public consultation and little notice.” says Ryan Cheng, Conservation Analyst for CPAWS Northern Alberta “The sudden and unilateral removal of this policy underscores the need for formalized protected areas like those recommended for the Bighorn in the North Saskatchewan region” 

As long-standing environmental legislation like the Coal Policy gets scrapped, we need to ensure appropriate landscape protections remain so that we are investing in the long term quality of our drinking water and intact habitat for vulnerable plant and animal species through appropriate land use planning. “We are yet again disappointed and dismayed with this clear disregard for the environment, and the complete lack of consultation with Albertans,” says Tara Russell, Program Director for CPAWS Northern Alberta. “Our eastern slopes are treasured areas for fishing, camping, and enjoying the outdoors – which will be taken away with increased coal mining activities and development.”

See Information Letter 2020-23 and Coal Information Bulletin 2020-02 for more information on the Government’s rescission of the Coal Policy.


Chris Smith
Parks Coordinator, CPAWS Northern Alberta

[email protected]