Is there a future for coal mining on Alberta’s Eastern Slopes? - Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative

Is there a future for coal mining on Alberta’s Eastern Slopes?

The outcry was swift and it was loud. 

When the Alberta Government rescinded the 1976 Coal Policy in May 2020 tens of thousands of people from Western Canada spoke up for mountains, water and wildlife. 

On February 8, 2021 the provincial government reinstated the long-standing policy, and announced a committee tasked with engaging Albertans on what the future of coal mining could look like.  

What is happening with the Coal Policy Committee Review?  

Following an initial survey in April that saw 25,000 responses from concerned folks, the Committee has since engaged with hundreds of people via online presentations and written submissions.  

In April, Y2Y met with the Committee, then again in July along with Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS). In August, we submitted an extensive joint written submission, Coal Development Puts Alberta’s Natural Values at Risk: A Conservation and Policy Analysis. 

This submission co-authored with CPAWS makes the case for no coal mining in the Eastern Slopes.  

Fishing Alberta's Rivers
Fishing Alberta’s Rivers. Photo: C. Simmons

Y2Y’s rationale for no coal mining in the Eastern Slopes:  

1. Keep it intact. 

The inherent value of the Eastern Slopes only exists if the landscape is restored and remains intact.  

2. We need water. 

The headwaters and landscapes of the Eastern Slopes are critical to the future of our province. Our communities, agricultural production, food production, tourism, and recreation all rely on these landscapes existing in as intact a state as possible and their watershed’s ability to provide clean water. Water is an increasingly limited resource that is critical to life; coal mining and exploration puts us all at risk.  

3. Coal at what cost? 

The negative impacts on the environment, human health, animal health and existing and emerging economies outweigh new short-term jobs, taxes, royalties or economics that may be generated as a result of coal development in this area.  

Researchers mapped and modelled three key “ecosystem services” or the benefits that people get from nature across Canada: carbon storage, freshwater, and nature-based recreation. Alberta’s Eastern Slopes stand out as a nationally-significant hotspot where people locally and farther away receive multiple benefits from nature. In all of Canada, only 0.6% of the country is a hotspot for delivering very high amounts of all three of these benefits to people; parts of Alberta’s eastern slopes, and the headwaters they house, are among that 0.6%. Source: Mitchell et al., 2021.

Alberta’s Eastern Slopes are too valuable to risk 

Research carried out by Dr. Aerin Jacob, Y2Y’s conservation scientist, and partners shows that the Eastern Slopes of the Rockies is one of the most important places across all of Canada for their combination of key benefits to people: freshwater provision, carbon storage and recreation.  

Coal mining presents unacceptable risks and largely irreversible impacts to these mountains, headwaters, wildlife and wilderness.  

Your voice matters 

There is still time to have your say on the future of coal in Alberta’s Eastern Slopes. You can send an email to the Coal Policy Committee until September 19. Let them know what you want prioritized in decisions that impact our mountains, water and public access to the places we love.  

We encourage you to write about why you care and would be personally impacted by coal mining in these landscapes.  

Need a hand? Here are some points you can use from Y2Y’s joint submission to help you write your email:  

  • A new coal policy should ensure that the impacts coal related to mining are assessed using cumulative effects and threshold models that takes into account the mounting pressures from other activities and recognizes natural values in the Eastern Slopes.  
  • The impacts on water availability and quality in Alberta’s headwaters are too great to risk future expansion of coal mining and exploration in the Eastern Slopes  
  • Alberta’s Eastern slopes provide connectivity between habitats essential for wildlife movement and recovering iconic species at risk, as well as important habitats that will act as areas of climate refuge and resilience for protecting biodiversity in the face of climate change.  
  • Alberta’s Eastern Slopes provide nationally significant ecosystem services — including freshwater provision, carbon storage and recreational values  
  • Further coal development undermines other economic pillars and economic opportunities for the Eastern Slopes region.  
  • The value of intact natural landscapes is not limited to their direct economic contributions.  
  • There is a risk to public access and enjoyment of recreation sites on Alberta’s Eastern Slopes 

This initiative has been generously supported by Alberta Ecotrust Foundation.