Dear Constituents of Lethbridge-East,
Thank you for all of your correspondence and questions about the recent news surrounding coal mining. I appreciate you honestly sharing your thoughts with me and I know the environment and protection of our natural spaces is a very important issue to many Albertans, which is why I want to be very clear about what the recent policy updates actually represent. I will try to address and clarify the four main issues connected to this subject, which have often been confused with each other.
- Grassy Mountain Coal Mine:
This project has been under review since May of 2015 by the joint review panel of the Alberta Energy Regulator and The Federal Impact Assessment Agency of Canada. They have had public hearings and will report to the Federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada for a decision. If the Minister of ECCC decides the project is likely to cause adverse environmental effects, the matter is referred to the Federal Cabinet. The Government of Alberta has no authority on this matter, which is why the NDP did not interfere in the process and also why our UCP government hasn’t either. That being said, the rescindment of the 1976 Coal Policy does not impact or short-circuit the review that Grassy Mountain was already undergoing almost six years prior to this change.
- Rescinding the 1976 Coal Policy:
This nearly 50-year-old piece of legislation has not been tossed out, rather, it’s been replaced by newer and more stringent legislation such as the Environmental Enhancement Act and the Eastern Slopes Policy. We’ve also added integrated resource plans as well as regional and sub regional plans. The Grassy Mountain project is on lands previously designated as category 4 – which fully allowed for coal development. Land previously under categories 2 and 3 must now be reviewed under the Alberta Energy Regulator process on a case-by-case basis with significantly increased land reclamation requirements. Further, category 1 lands remain fully protected from any form of commercialization, industry or resource development.
- Land Leases:
Obtaining a coal lease does not permit exploration or development, it only gives a proponent coal rights on that parcel of land, which they can only produce after and if they get all requisite regulatory approvals. Additional permits are required in order to build access roads or drill exploratory holes which should be reclaimed at the end of the project and I will advocate for this to be looked at more closely.
This final point is by far what people are most concerned about. Even though mining isn’t pretty and reclamation actions still have a way to go, it is possible to recover and reclaim. Clean water is crucial for fish and wildlife, farmers and ranchers, irrigation and industry, not to mention as a drinking source for towns and communities downstream. Technology has come a long way and some key measures and requirements are already in place. However, I think we need to do more. I am aware of an Albertan company that has done some incredibly innovative work with graphene – which is extremely effective at removing selenium from water – but as is common with such technology, it requires financing to fully commercialize and implement. Whether funds are invested publicly or privately, the safety and protection of our environment should be the highest priority.
As the elected member for Lethbridge-East, while I support responsible development of our natural resources, I will advocate for fuller measures on land reclamation, as well as the highest levels in water purification and protection standards, which is the message I have heard from the majority of Lethbridge constituents. I have also heard very clearly that people in Lethbridge are not interested in further coal mining on the eastern slopes and want their water protected – particularly for our agricultural and food corridor – and I will represent that position in Legislature.
As a note in closing, I am working hard to progress some Lethbridge-based innovative thinking on mini-nuclear power generation. This is clean, safe, technologically advanced and I believe, could be a strong substantive option for our energy future.
Nathan Neudorf, MLA