The Australian miner that’s looking to build a massive new metallurgical coal mine on the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains is vowing it will not give up its fight after Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson reaffirmed a joint-panel decision that effectively struck down the proposed project.
In a statement Monday, Benga Mining Ltd. said it is reviewing Wilkinson’s Aug. 6 decision regarding the Grassy Mountain project with its legal counsel, after the feds upheld a decision from the Joint Review Panel (JRP) and the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) that determined the project would likely result in “significant adverse environmental effects” on water quality, the local trout population and vegetation.
In the release, Benga Mining Chief Executive Officer John Wallington said Wilkinson had made his determination in spite of the miner’s request he hold off action while the company pursued a legal appeal of the JRP decision, which halted development in June.
“We are shocked that Canada’s minister of environment should take such a precipitous step before our legal appeal could be heard in court,” Wallington said.
“By ignoring Benga’s legitimate request that he hold his decision in abeyance whilst the legal appeal process runs its course, the minister has ridden roughshod over the legal rights of Benga, Piikani Nation and Stoney Nakoda Nations, adversely affected economic interests, and relied on a JRP report that is the subject of multiple legal challenges.”
The project, located about 150 kilometres south of Calgary near in the Crowsnest Pass region, sits on Treaty 7 territory. During the initial hearings, Benga had sought and received the support of all the First Nations whose territories encompass the project’s proposed footprint.
While the review panel acknowledged those signed agreements with the 14 First Nations, indicating they had no objection to Grassy Mountain, the panel said that did not outweigh environmental concerns.
Benga’s Wallington said that the federal government’s decision to make that determination counter to the wishes of First Nations communities sent a poor message to the investment community in terms of the regulatory environment in Canada.
“The minister’s actions may have far-reaching implications beyond any one project, and sends a strong message to potential investors that Canada’s regulatory regime is uncertain,” he said.  
“To be denied due legal process after investing hundreds of millions of dollars and diligently meeting all regulatory requirements over five years in the lead up to the JRP hearing, is very concerning.”
If it were to see the light of day, Benga said the Grassy Mountain project would have 4.5 million tonnes of annual processed coal capacity over a mine life of 25 years, creating 500 jobs during the construction phase and 385 full-time jobs thereafter. A quarter of Grassy Mountain would sit on previously-mined land.
The project has been a flashpoint between industry and environmental advocates, in the wake of a legislative decision by Alberta to end a decades-long coal mining ban in the area.