Government records and other sources document the Alberta and international coal industry’s intense lobbying attempts to change Alberta’s regulatory system in the months leading into the changeover to the United Conservative Party government and in the year after, which eventually led to the rescindment of the 1976 Coal Policy.
According to documents filed by the Coal Association of Canada (CAC) with Alberta’s Lobby Registry, the timeline starts on Jan. 29, 2019 just a few months prior to the election, when the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) invited representatives of the CAC to form a joint Coal Sector Working Group, co-chaired by CAC president Robin Campbell, as the AER “began working on priorities to increase regulatory efficiency of coal mine approvals in Alberta.”
Robin Campbell, the president of the CAC, is a recurring figure in the coal industry’s lobbying efforts.
Other key members of the board of the CAC at the time when the Working Group was formed included John Schadan, president of Conuma Coal Resources, Marc Dulude, president and COO, Ridley Terminals, Steve Frieck, president of Mancal Coal, Ed Griffiths, VP of human resources at Bighorn Mining, Don Swartz VP of marketing and business development at Westmoreland Coal Company, Shane Gant, VP operations-Canada for Westmoreland Coal, Michael Riensma, Canada
Region Mining Manager with Caterpillar, Reise O’Hara, director of government relations for the CAC, Shannon Campbell, VP of project development with Kameron Coal, Allen Foster, VP of bulk with CN Rail, Glenn Dudar, VP and general manager of Westshore Terminals and Carolyn Hillard, group manager, solutions and innovation, with Sedgman Canada.
One last major figure Max Wang, who served as vice-chair of the CAC, was managing director and CEO of Atrum Coal in January 2019, which proposed to start its Elan Hard Coking Coal Project in the Crowsnest Pass on what then known as Category 2 lands under the 1976 Coal Policy.
Wang was previously president of Grande Cache Coal which was owned by Marubeni and Winsway Enterprises. Chinese-owned Winsway Enterprises provided coal to 61 companies in China at the time.
On April 4, 2019, just prior to the provincial election, the CAC held a board meeting where president Robin Campbell reported verbally to the board.
According to a summary of his comments provided by the CAC the “report centered around the coming provincial election in Alberta and the opportunities and repercussions depending on the outcomes.
It was reported to the Board the discussions that had been held with UCP and their position on the coal industry in Alberta.”
The CAC also said it sent out surveys to other political parties, but does not document any “discussions” with these parties.
On April 19 the UCP was elected.
Following the election, the CAC began a concerted lobbying effort to have the 1976 Coal Policy changed substantially or eliminated.
On June 18, CAC president Campbell held his first ministerial level meeting with Minister of Parks and Environment Jason Nixon to “provide an overview of the Canadian coal industry and to discuss economic opportunities for the Province of Alberta as a result of proposed coal mining activity, primarily in the Eastern Slopes of Alberta. Land-use planning and zoning of these resource-rich areas is critical for investment and development of coal mines.”
“Alberta’s 1976 Coal Policy is out-dated and requires amendments to reflect current land-use plans that allow for continued and increased coal mining in Alberta,” the CAC later added, giving more clarity to the discussions held with Nixon.
Nixon then invited the CAC to join the West-Central Subregional Task Force for the Upper Smoky Planning Area, which Campbell accepted.
On June 21 the CAC met with Deputy Minister for Energy Dale Nally to again discuss substantial changes to the 1976 Coal Policy which would allow greater mining on the Eastern Slopes.
Evidently liking what it was hearing from the deputy minister and Minister of Environment and Parks, Atrum Coal, headed by managing director Max Wang, who also sat as vice-chair of the CAC, published its financial analysis of the Elan Project on Sept. 5, 2019.
The report expresses optimism Atrum has the full support of the government in the changing of the 1976 Coal Policy so it can begin the process of exploring mining operations on what were formally Category 2 lands.
The report states there has been “Intensive government engagement to the minister level over the past three months — very strong tracking and government attention/ support.”
A few days later on Sept. 17, the Coal Association of Canada met again with Minister Nixon, and separately with Indigenous Relations Minister Rick Wilson.
With Nixon it discussed “caribou range planning,” and, “economic opportunities for the Province of Alberta as a result of proposed coal mining activity, primarily in the Eastern Slopes of Alberta.”
With Wilson, the CAC discussed consultation guidelines, presumably on Treaty 7 lands in the Eastern Slopes, and more specially: “consultation capacity and impact benefits of resource projects, specifically coal mines in Alberta.”
Presumably there was then a lull in face to face conversations between the coal industry and higher level ministers in the Kenney government as the next documented meeting comes on Jan. 30, 2020. President Robin Campbell again met with the deputy minister of Energy to provide an overview of the Canadian coal industry and to “discuss economic opportunities as a result of exporting Canadian coal, carbon capture and storage technology as well as potential opportunities for stranded coal assets in Alberta as a result of the coal-fired generation phase out.”
On Feb. 18 again the 1976 Coal
Policy was very much top of mind for the Coal Association of Canada in another meeting held with Associate Minister of Red Tape Reduction Grant Hunter, and in the same lobby registration the CAC says it will meet with the UCP’s Energy Caucus on Mar. 30 to make a presentation on the Coal Policy there.
The Herald was unable to find any summary of this meeting with the CAC and the UCP Energy Caucus.
One final meeting between the CAC and the UCP Minister of Energy Sonya Savage on April 30 via teleconference, and, again, the Coal Policy was the topic of discussion, alongside the findings of the CAC/AER working group, federal coal mining effluent regulations, and opportunities for fiscal relief in response to business impacts of COVID-19.
But by this time, it must have been apparent to the CAC it was preaching to the converted because just two weeks later, on May 15, Savage and the
Kenney government, parroting lines directly from the CAC lobbying effort, announced it would be unilaterally terminating the Coal Policy without public consultation as of June 1.
“Rescinding the outdated coal policy in favour of modern oversight will help attract new investment for an important industry and protect jobs for Albertans,” Savage said at the time, an almost verbatim summary of the situation as expressed to her by the CAC at previous meetings.
Following almost a year of public backlash, the Kenney government did eventually reinstate the Coal Policy, with the provision six mines, including Atrum’s, currently seeking approval would be allowed to continue the process toward an application for approval.
Consultations on a new Alberta Coal Policy are scheduled to commence in late March.