Albertans concerned about coal mining in Eastern Slopes: Leger Poll

As Alberta’s Coal Policy Committee gets ready to draft recommendations on a new coal policy for the province, a recent poll found a large majority of Albertans are concerned about the impact of coal mining on Alberta’s water sources.

The recent poll found 77 per cent of Albertans were concerned about the potential impact of coal mining on rivers and water in Alberta’s Eastern Slopes.

The poll was conducted by the market and social research firm Leger, the same national polling and analytics company that the Government of Alberta often engages.

It was commissioned by the Livingstone Landowners Group, which represents a number of farmers and ranchers in southwestern Alberta. The group has raised a number of concerns about the impact of open pit or mountain top mining in the region.

Last May the group called for a halt to all coal mining activity in the region until Albertans and experts had an opportunity to make presentations to the Coal Policy Committee.

They also commissioned an environmental consulting company to report on the impact of eight proposed coal mining projects in the Eastern Slopes, which was released in June.

That report suggested the impact of the new mines on the Oldman River Watershed would be significant and irreversible.

LLG Acting President Norma Dougall said they wanted to have the public opinion survey done to provide the Coal Policy Committee with useful information, but also to validate their previous presentations to the committee.

“Overwhelmingly Albertans said they were opposed to mines, compared to those who said they were supportive of mines,” added Dougall.

“Only 19 per cent of the people said they supported mines in the Eastern Slopes,” said McDougall, who also pointed out that 55 per cent stated existing coal mines should be phased out.

Of the 60 per cent of people polled that were aware of the potential mining of the Eastern Slopes:

•             63 per cent opposed coal mining in the Eastern Slopes while 21 per cent supported it.

•             77 per cent stated they were concerned with the potential impact coal mining could have on Alberta’s rivers.

•             75 per cent opposed coal development if it negatively impacts agriculture and tourism (10 per cent would allow it).

•             88 per cent responded that all active and inactive coal mines should be monitored for the release of contaminants and if present, cleaned up. (Five per cent disagreed).

•             58 per cent stated the economic benefits of mining the Eastern Slopes do not outweighed the environmental damage caused (23 per cent stated economics outweighed environmental damage).

“We've come to a bit of a tipping point, where finally the environment is as important or more important than the economics,” stated Dougall.

“Economics doesn’t trump the environment every time like it has in the past in Alberta.”

Of all 1,000 people polled:

  • Almost three times as many people oppose mining the Eastern Slopes as support it (50 per cent oppose vs 19 per cent support)
  • Almost three times as many people stated coal mines should be phased out (49 per cent agreed vs 19 per cent disagreed)
  • 70 per cent of people were concerned about the impact coal mining can have on rivers and streams (70 per cent concerned vs 13 per cent not concerned)
  • Almost 70 per cent of people also think coal mining should not be allowed if it impacted agriculture and tourism (68 per cent vs 17 per cent  mining should be allowed) 

The Livingstone Landowners Group said it would be up to the coal policy committee to decide what to do with the information, but Dougall maintained it’s a clear representation of how Albertans feel, and demonstrates that not only special interest groups are concerned about water, contamination and the impact on other industries.

“The fact that people are paying attention to the impact of coal on the environment is pleasantly surprising to me,” said Dougall.

The LLG maintains the coal issue has brought to light the desperate need for economic development in the Crowsnest Pass. The group is urging the provincial government to facilitate economic growth by promoting sustainable and health industry and development.