An update on Grassy Mountain Coal Project

The approval situation for the Grassy Mountain Coal Mine has become complicated, so this is a short summary of what is happening with the Grassy Mountain Coal Mine – as of August 25, 2021.

The major source of the complexity is that because of the size of the project and potential impacts to areas in federal jurisdiction Benga Mining Ltd. needs approvals from both the provincial and federal governments in order to build the Grassy Mountain Coal Mine. To this end, the federal and provincial governments chose to use a joint review panel process – so there was one hearing resulting in the joint review panel’s report of June 17th, 2021 which provides 680 pages detailing the evidence presented by Benga’s consultants and experts retained by intervenor groups and explaining their decision.

The joint review panel’s report included the provincial government’s decision, made by the Alberta Energy Regulator: “Exercising our authority as the AER, we deny Benga’s applications…” (paragraph 3050).

Benga, along with the Piikani Nation and the Stoney Nakoda Nations are seeking permission to appeal that decision at the Alberta Court of Appeal. The purpose of a permission to appeal process is a kind of gatekeeping, used by the Court to confirm the appeal is important enough, and well-founded enough, to be worth their time. So, before Benga can get provincial approvals, they need to convince the Court their appeal is worth hearing, then Benga needs to win their actual appeal, and even then the Court is not likely to outright approve the mine but would likely order a reconsideration from the Alberta Energy Regulator – and the regulator may simply deny the approvals again.

On August 6th, 2021, based on the Joint Review Panel report, the federal Cabinet decided that the significant adverse environmental effects that the Grassy Mountain Coal Mine is likely to cause are not justified in the circumstances, and denied Benga federal approvals. Benga has filed another appeal going to federal court challenging the federal government’s decision on similar grounds to the provincial appeal.

In short, Benga now has two denials it needs to fight in court and get reversed before they could start taking the top of Grassy Mountain.

The current situation looks bad for Benga and good for the Westslope Cutthroat Trout who live around the proposed mine. But Benga is likely to keep trying – although a tiny chance of success and a large and growing legal bill would scare most people off, it will not mean much to Benga’s billionaire Australian owner.

Drew Yewchuk is the staff lawyer at the University of Calgary’s Public Interest Law Clinic, and represented CPAWS at the joint review panel hearing for the Grassy Mountain Coal Project.