Reinstatement of the 1976 Coal Policy

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Bennett Jones LLP

[co-author: Jarett Schaumberger - Articling Student]

On June 1, 2020, the Government of Alberta rescinded A Coal Development Policy for Alberta, which was also commonly known as the "1976 Coal Policy". The authors published Alberta to Rescind Coal Development Policy, on the implications of the Government of Alberta's decision to rescind the Policy and outlined the next steps for interested coal lease applicants.

It has been just over eight months since the 1976 Coal Policy was rescinded, and the decision continues to garner significant public attention. Several municipal governments and First Nations have adopted resolutions demanding reinstatement of the Policy, citing environmental and health concerns.

The 1976 Coal Policy reflected the premise that some lands were better suited for economic and energy development initiatives. As such, the Policy established a 4-category classification system which determined whether mining operations would be allowed on such lands. Simply put, the lower the category number, the lower the likelihood that the Department of Energy would grant a coal lease on the applicable land. The rescission of the 1976 Coal Policy signaled that areas in former coal categories 2 and 3 may be more readily pursued for exploration and development activities. This has resulted in concerns regarding mining in Alberta's Eastern Slopes and potential impacts of such mining.

On February 2, 2021, the Government of Alberta issued a release that announced the reinstatement of the 1976 Coal Policy and provided the following directive to the Alberta Energy Regulator:

  • No mountaintop removal will be permitted and all of the restrictions under the 1976 coal categories are to apply, including all restrictions on surface mining in Category 2 lands.
  • All future coal exploration approvals on Category 2 lands will be prohibited pending widespread consultations on a new coal policy.

This is not the conclusion of the matter as the Minister of Energy has signaled a continued intention to modernize the existing coal policy and carry out consultation regarding such changes. Regardless of the direction taken following consultation, the Bennett Jones Mining and Energy groups are ready to advise on the implications of coal policy decisions in Alberta. Please contact the authors directly for more information on the reinstatement of the 1976 Coal Policy or on other mining or energy law matters.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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