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A section of the eastern slopes south west of Longview, Alta., on June 16, 2021.Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

Alberta’s United Conservative government has refused for the second time to move ahead with an Opposition bill that would have placed legally enforceable restrictions on coal mining in the Rocky Mountains.

That shuffles the Eastern Slopes Protection Act back to a legislative committee that could rule the bill won’t proceed at all.

On Monday, the Opposition New Democrats retabled the private member’s bill that would have substituted actual legislation for an order from Energy Minister Sonya Savage restricting coal mining in the Rocky Mountains. NDP Leader Rachel Notley, the bill’s sponsor, said a politician’s promise isn’t enough to protect those much-loved landscapes.

“A ministerial order can be changed overnight without any public oversight,” said Notley.

UCP MLAs refused to grant the unanimous consent the bill needed to move directly to second reading. It now returns to the all-party Standing Committee on Private Bills and Private Members’ Bills, which vets private member’s bills that are brought forward.

Earlier this month, the government announced it would extend a pause on coal mine exploration and development across a long stretch of Alberta’s Rocky Mountains and eastern slopes. That pause will continue until land use plans for the areas are complete and lay out specific rules for industrial development.

Those protections, however, rely on the order from Savage that can be revoked without public consultation or legislative debate.

That’s not good enough, said Notley.

“The Eastern Slopes Protection Act does in law what the UCP have refused to do,” she said. “Protection by legislation as opposed to ministerial order is absolutely critical.”

In the legislature Monday, Savage promised that her order would remain in place.

“We have fully protected the eastern slopes,” she said.

“Nobody’s going to remove that ministerial order. Land-use planning is going to be completed.”

Notley’s bill would ban all coal development on the most sensitive lands, including lands already leased for exploration, and would cancel leases granted for those lands. It would force any mines proposed for other areas to conform to a land use plan. And it would block the province’s energy regulator from issuing any coal permits on those lands.

Other than enshrining its protections in legislation, it’s similar to what Savage announced on March 4.

Notley’s bill is identical to one she proposed last spring. That bill died on the order paper when the legislature refused unanimous consent to a request for a special debate on the bill.

Notley had hoped the legislature would give consent this time around and continue to second reading. It’s failure sends the bill back to the same committee it cleared unanimously in 2021.

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