By Bob Weber
November 18, 2021 - A group of Albertans is attacking a panel charged with gathering public opinion on coal mining in the province, saying it's biased against industry and influenced by American environmentalists.
Members of Citizens Supportive of Crowsnest Coal have written to Premier Jason Kenney and Energy Minister Sonya Savage to suggest the panel's report is likely to be distorted.
"The outcomes from the committee will very likely be skewed by the pressure exerted and the one-sided weight of the input you have received," said one letter by Eric Lowther, who has property in the area.
"This is to the detriment of the many thousands of residents in the Crowsnest area and all Albertans."
Lowther and others in the Crowsnest Pass area of southwest Alberta say coal mining is crucial to the region's economic survival.
They deplore a decision by the provincial regulator and federal government not to permit the Grassy Mountain project, a proposal for an open-pit mine on a previously mined area. They fear the five-member panel appointed by Savage will encourage the province to block other coal developments being considered for a vast stretch of the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains.
They call panel member Bill Trafford of the Livingstone Landowners Group an activist long opposed to development.
"Mr. Trafford and his activists have been lobbying against development for almost 20 years now," said Lowther's letter. "They have accessed public and private funding focused on stopping anything from happening in the area, even on lands they don't own."
They add the group is linked to the environmental organization Yellowstone To Yukon Conservation Initiative, also known as Y2Y, which has offices in the U.S. and Canada and has mobilized its members to oppose Grassy Mountain.
"This one individual is the head of an activist group that recruits charitable-receipted money to lobby against Alberta's coal," said Lowther, a former Reform Party MP. "The Y2Y group has funders that are outside of Canada.
"The president of an activist group that has been around for 30 years can push a button and flood the committee with emails from their extended membership, including the Y2Y group."
Lowther said his group has about 200 members. He said it has received no funding or support from industry, although they keep in touch.
They say they want any advice the panel offers to be balanced by pro-industry perspectives. They also want the Grassy Mountain decision to be reconsidered.
"We are asking for the company that applied for this Grassy Mountain mine to be given fair consideration," said Lowther. "We don't think it has."
Livingstone Landowners spokeswoman Bobbi Lambright said the panel represents a variety of views, including people who supported the Grassy Mountain project. She said her group has worked with industry, government and environmentalists.
"We are the furthest thing from an activist group. It's so absurd as to be laughable."
She said the group doesn't have charitable status and teamed up with Yellowstone To Yukon to be able to provide donors supporting their work in this cause with a tax deduction.
"We don't have access to foreign activists or funding."
Trafford, she said, is on leave from the group while working with the coal panel.
"He is a man of tremendous integrity," she said.
Lowther said one member of his group got a call back from Savage's chief of staff.
"They had a long conversation," he said. "That was one glimmer of light."
Panel chairman Ron Wallace has said the vast majority of what the panel heard opposed coal mining. It is expected to deliver its report to Savage at the end of December.
Lambright said she fears the Crowsnest group could influence how the panel's report is received.
"It's a concern any time you see somebody trying to use this type of tactic to discredit an individual or the work of a committee. It would be a terrible travesty if it were to have that type of effect."