TORONTO -- Upcoming changes to Alberta's coal regulations are expected to create hundreds of jobs in the province, but environmental advocates worry that the work will come at the expense of the ecosystem alongside the Rocky Mountains.

Alberta's energy ministry announced May 15 that the province's 44-year-old coal policy will be replaced June 1 by a new set of rules that bring coal producers in line with those looking to develop other commodities.

"Rescinding the outdated coal policy … will help attract new investment for an important industry and protect jobs for Albertans," Energy Minister Sonya Savage said in a press release announcing the changes.

One of those changes opens up land that runs alongside the Rockies to developers of open-pit coal mines, though most of the mountains themselves remain protected.

Robin Campbell, the president of the Coal Association of Canada, told CTV News that he is aware of at least six companies looking at establishing coal mines in the Foothills region and sending the coal to Asia where it would be used in steel production.

According to Campbell, each mine would likely employ between 300 and 350 people.

"With the COVID-19 impact on the economy, this is an opportunity for our industry to help bring back economic activity into Alberta," he said.

Environmental advocates, however, are concerned about the impact that economic activity would have on the grizzly bears, caribou and other wild animals in the Foothills.

"Coal mines are known to be very destructive to these species," Shaun Fluker, an environmental law professor at the University of Calgary, told CTV News.

Fluker described the area opened up for coal-mine development as "a significant swath of public lands." It also contains rivers and other waterways.

"There's definitely going to be an impact on the sensitive wildlife populations that reside in the area," Nissa Petterson, a conservation specialist with the Alberta Wilderness Association, told CTV News.

In addition to the impacts on the ecosystem, Petterson said she is concerned that the changes were made without public consultation.