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Panel says Grassy Mountain coal mine in Rockies not in public interest

Last Updated Jun 17, 2021 at 6:42 pm MDT

A monolith is set up near the Rocky Mountains in Alberta with a message to stop the open coal mining pits planned for the area. (CREDIT: @wildstonestories, Instagram)

CALGARY — An environmental review panel into a proposal for an open-pit coal mine in Alberta’s Rocky Mountains is advising the federal government that the Grassy Mountain mine is not in the public interest.

The federal-provincial panel says the mine would damage surface water quality and native trout species, as well as impair natural communities and biodiversity in the region.

It adds the mine would also hurt the ability of some area First Nations to practise their treaty rights.

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The panel’s report concludes that those impacts aren’t worth the economic benefits the mine would bring and advises Federal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson to turn it down.

The panel has also denied the project’s permit applications under provincial laws.

Benga Mining, the company behind the project, says they will be reviewing the decision with their legal team and will consider their options moving forward.

It adds that 25 per cent of the mind sits on land that was mined 60 years ago and was never properly restored and that it uses industry leading practices to manage water use, protect wildlife and accelerate reclamation.

Alberta’s Energy and Environment ministers responded to the recommendation on Thursday.

“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.

“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 developmental project.”

NDP Environment Critic, Marlin Schmidt, says this rejection should send a signal that these types of developments should not be considered in isolation.

He adds that this finding underscores the need for the Eastern Slopes Protection Act, introduced by the opposition, which would ban coal mining in some areas and halt further development until more reviews are done.