Alberta's energy minister has promised people will be able to say "no" to coal mining in the Rocky Mountains during upcoming consultations.

"Albertans will tell us how they want to see coal development — if they want to see coal development — and, if they want to see coal development, where it will be," Sonya Savage said Tuesday.

Savage was responding to questions from NDP Opposition critic Kathleen Ganley during a meeting of the standing committee on resource stewardship.

The United Conservative government has promised consultations will begin March 29. They were announced in February in response to public outcry over the government's decision to revoke a policy that had protected the summits and eastern slopes of the Rockies from surface coal mines since 1976.

Exploration leases on thousands of hectares were sold on formerly protected so-called Category 2 land. Those leases remain active, although new sales have been halted.

No details about the consultations have been released. Critics have wondered if the consultations will give Albertans the option of telling the government not just under what circumstances they would accept mines, but whether they want them at all.

The land in question includes the headwaters for much of the province's drinking water.

Savage said Tuesday that details are to be released shortly. She suggested their scope will be broad.

"We're going to hear the views of Albertans," Savage said. "We're going to listen to them before we take any next steps with respect to what can or can't be developed on Category 2 lands.

#Alberta's energy minister has promised people will be able to say "no" to #CoalMining in the Rocky Mountains during upcoming consultations. #AbLeg #abpoli

"You're trying to suggest that ... those leases are going to stay after the coal consultations and that coal mining will be permitted in Category 2 lands, which is as far from the truth as possible," Savage told Ganley.

Savage also promised talks with area First Nations.

"There will definitely be government-to-government direct consultations with Indigenous communities," she said. "That will run parallel with consultation that will start on the 29th."

If the government wanted to assure Albertans its mind was really open on the issue, it could start by stopping any further work on exploration leases already sold, said Katie Morrison of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.

"I would have more confidence if they cancelled the exploration permits ... pending the outcome of these consultations," she said in an email.

"If they really have no predetermined outcomes, then companies should not be able to continue to damage these landscapes and incur costs that could be subject to compensation from Albertans later."

Morrison said the further along coal companies get, the harder it will be to implement land-use plans and the more expensive it will be to reclaim damage caused by exploration activities such as drilling and road-building.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 16, 2021.

Keep reading