By Cole Parkinson
After an in-depth review of Benga Mining’s Grassy Mountain Coal Project, the Joint Review Panel recommended to the provincial government to deny the project.
The panel stated, “In our capacity as a panel of AER hearing commissioners, we find that the project’s significant adverse environmental effects on surface water quality and westslope cutthroat trout and habitat outweigh the low to moderate positive economic impacts of the project. Therefore, we find that the project is not in the public interest. Without the AER approvals, the project cannot proceed – there is no need for the federal government to give any consideration to the project.”
In response to the panel’s findings, Sonya Savage, Alberta energy minister, and Jason Nixon, Alberta environment and parks minister, issued a joint statement on the findings.
“The Alberta government respects the Joint Review Panel’s recommendation, which is the result of a rigorous review process carried out by the Alberta Energy Regulator and the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada,” began the statement. “All proposed coal projects are subject to stringent review to ensure development is safe, environmentally responsible and meets all requirements. In this case, the process worked as it should. The panel’s recommendation demonstrates that Alberta’s legislative and regulatory framework is robust and thoroughly considers environmental impacts as part of any resource development project.”
With concern about the effect the project would have on the west slope, the pair of ministers reiterated they were taking the findings seriously.
“We acknowledge that the Joint Review Panel determined the project would result in adverse environmental effects on surface water quality – particularly on westslope cutthroat trout and their habitat. We take this concern seriously. Alberta has a long history of responsibly managing our water resources to ensure healthy, secure and sustainable water for our communities, the environment and the economy. Despite falsehoods being perpetuated by some whose intent is to stoke fear and confusion on this matter, our government has not made changes to water protection legislation or water allocations in southern Alberta.”
They continued by stating the protection of Alberta lands and water is still the number one priority for the government.
“The protection of our lands and water remains of critical importance as we develop our natural resources. Comprehensive land-use planning supports conservation and environmental protection efforts while ensuring our tourism, agriculture, energy and forestry sectors can be developed in a sustainable way,” the statement continued. “The Government of Alberta is committed to responsible resource development. We are continuing the process of widespread public engagement to inform the province’s long-term approach to coal and will have more to say on water quality management in the days ahead.”
With the findings made public, many groups expressed their satisfaction with the panel’s recommendation.
“(The) rejection of the Grassy Mountain project by the Joint Review Panel must be a signal that we can longer consider these projects in isolation,” said Marlin Schmidt, NDP Critic for Environment and Parks in a statement. “We cannot pit potential mining jobs against the existing and future jobs supported by agriculture and tourism all along the Eastern Slopes.”
Schmidt also continued by saying the NDP still wants to see coal mining banned on category 1 and 2 lands.
Category 1 lands include National Parks, present or proposed Provincial Parks, Wilderness Areas, Designated Recreation Areas, Wildlife Sanctuaries, etc.
Category 2 lands are parts of the southern Rocky Mountains and Foothills.
Category 3 lands are Northern Forested Region and eastern portions of the Eastern Slopes while Category 4 are the areas of the province not covered in the other three categories.
“This review underscores the need for the Eastern Slopes Protection Act, introduced by Rachel Notley. This bill would ban coal mining in category 1 and 2 lands, and halt all development in category 3 and 4 lands pending a comprehensive regional planning process informed by a thorough consultation with Albertans,” continued Schmidt. “I thank the tens of thousands of Albertans who participated in this review. Albertans do not want these beautiful and distinctly Albertan landscapes to be destroyed by coal mining, and Albertans do not want their watersheds to be poisoned by selenium and other byproducts of coal mining.”
Others also celebrated the recommendation to cancel the project.
“In this landmark decision, the Joint Review Panel treated the significant adverse environmental effects of Grassy Mountain with a seriousness Albertans have seldom, if ever, seen before,” aid Alberta Wilderness Association’s Conservation Director Ian Urquhart.
“This Joint Review Panel decision is one with an eye to the future,” concluded Urquhart. “By stressing the importance of surface water quality and natural wonders such as westslope cutthroat trout, the panel told governments and corporations alike that the status of those resources tomorrow must be privileged today.”
“We are thrilled by (this) announcement and the decision of the Joint Review Panel on the Grassy Mountain Coal Project,” stated Latasha Calf Robe, Niitsitapi Water Protectors. “Projects that will have adverse effects on Niitsitapi ways of life, culture and rights should not proceed and we are grateful that the panel acknowledged the severe impacts a project such as this would have on Indigenous peoples.”