Coal Mining in Alberta's Eastern Slopes and Beyond

Concerns about the impacts of open-pit coal mining in Alberta is not new. In 2021, a culmination of decisions and regulatory changes has renewed the attention to coal development in the province.

News coverage and public attention has been focused two separate matters:

  • Rescindment of the 1976 Coal Policy: This policy was introduced to regulate open-pit coal mining in the Rocky Mountains and foothills. It was rescinded in May 2020, allowing coal extraction in some regions that were previously protected. In February 2021, the government announced it was reinstating the policy.
  • Upcoming Decision on the Grassy Mountain Coal Project: The application for permits of this coal mine in the Crowsnest Pass was submitted in 2017, but a final decision is expected in 2021. This project was permitted under the 1976 Coal Policy.

The Grassy Mountain coal project is the first of several mountain-top removal coal mines proposed for the southern Rockies. These open-pit mines will extract metallurgical coal, which is exported to produce steel.

The impacts of coal extraction are concentrated in southwestern Alberta but extends throughout the province and beyond. Open-pit mines are radical transformations of the landscape and rely on water from essential headwaters. Decisions for new mines must uphold Treaty rights and undertake consultation with Indigenous communities nearby and downstream. Regulatory approval involves both the provincial and federal governments.

Coal extraction isn’t just a part of Alberta’s history. The decisions are complex, but they will have a lasting influence for the next generation.

Take Action on Coal

Petition to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change to delay a decision on the Grassy Mountain Coal Project until the cumulative impacts of all mining activity in the region have been adequately considered.

Check out groups from across the province and find out how you can help protect the landscape from the threat of open-pit coal mining.

Information & Resources

Alberta Energy Regulator

Legal Information

University of Calgary law professor Nigel Bankes has begun a series of posts analyzing the 1976 Coal Policy and other legal issues pertaining to the development of coal resources in Alberta.

Updates & News

Reinstatement of the 1976 Coal Development Policy

February 12, 2021

On February 8, 2021, Alberta Energy Minister announced that the government was reinstating the 1976 Coal Development Policy.

While the reinstatement was welcomed, questions remain about the practical implications of the reinstatement. Environmental groups and other advocates have called for increased landscape protections from coal mining.


First Nations and Landowners Request Review of Coal Policy Rescindment

January 11, 2021

Court challenges are expected to begin next week over the Alberta government’s decision to rescind the coal policy, which restricted exploration and development of open-pit coal mines in the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains.

Separate requests for judicial review have been filed by Ermineskin and Whitefish Lake First Nations, Siksika and Kainai First Nations and ranchers with the Livingstone Landowners Group, noting concerns for headwaters protections and a lack of consultation.

Meanwhile, coal exploration plans were discovered to surround five popular recreation areas in southwestern Alberta, and one exploration lease extends into an existing recreation area. 

Take Action


First Public Offering of New Coal Leases

December 16, 2020

On December 3, 2020, Alberta Energy made the first public offering of coal leases in the southern Alberta Rockies since the recission of the 1976 Coal Policy in May.

This offering was announced on the heels of the final day of the public hearing into the proposed Grassy Mountain Coal Project, the first of several mountain-top removal coal mines proposed for the southern Rockies.


Changes to Water Allocation in Southern Alberta

December 16, 2020

Following the recission of Alberta's 1976 Coal Policy in the spring, the Alberta Government has taken additional steps to open up the Eastern Slopes of the Rockies in southern Alberta to metallurgical coal mining. The government has proposed changes to the water allocation order in the Oldman River watershed to make additional water available for industrial uses.

Proposed changes to the water allocation order in the Oldman River watershed may make up to 13,568,000 cubic metres of water available for industrial uses, including for coal developments in the eastern slopes. The proposed changes were presented by Alberta Environment and Parks in an information briefing on November 20, 2020.

This proposed change will group all water-use activities – including irrigation, drinking water supplies and industrial uses – into one category. In a watershed with already limited supply, this change is expected to impact the existing water market in southern Alberta and flow in rivers and headwaters.


Rescinding the Coal Policy

August 1, 2020

The Alberta government rescinded the 1976 Coal Policy on June 1, 2020 saying the policy was no longer relevant due to regulatory changes and new approaches in land use planning since the 1970s. However, gaps in land use plans (particularly in the eastern slopes region) may leave sensitive regions open to coal development.