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Federal government rejects Grassy Mountain coal project in Alberta

The proposed Grassy Mountain coal project in southwestern Alberta has been rejected by the federal government nearly two months after a review panel denied a provincial application for the project.

Environment minister says 'significant adverse environmental effects' likely with mine

Construction equipment near Grassy Mountain, with Crowsnest Mountain in the background. The federal government has released its final decision on the project, stating that it cannot proceed. (CBC)

The proposed Grassy Mountain coal project in southwestern Alberta has been rejected by the federal government nearly two months after a review panel denied a provincial application for the project.

On Friday, federal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said he had rejected the project in light of the review panel's report and after a review of additional available information.

"The Government of Canada must make decisions based on the best available scientific evidence while balancing economic and environmental considerations," Wilkinson said in a release. 

"It is in Canada's best interests to safeguard our water ways for healthy fish populations like the westslope cutthroat trout, respect Indigenous peoples' culture and way of life, and protect the environment for future generations."

Review panel decision

In June, a review panel for the Alberta Energy Regulator denied the provincial application for the coal project, ruling it was "not in the public interest" and advising the federal government to reject the project

Following that decision, the Australia-based Riversdale Resources said it was "reviewing its options," estimating the project could produce up to 4.5 million tonnes of steel-making coal annually over a 23-year mine life. It said the operation would generate $1.7 billion in taxes and employ 400 people.

In a release, the federal government said the project was likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects to:

  • Surface water quality, including from selenium effluent discharge.
  • The threatened westslope cutthroat trout and its habitat.
  • The endangered whitebark pine.
  • The physical and cultural heritage of the Kainai, Piikani and Siksika First Nations.
A sign marks the road to Grassy Mountain, where a coal mine was to be developed. The proposal was rejected Friday by the federal government. (Evelyne Asselin/CBC)

In a statement issued in June, Riversdale said it would engage with the relevant authorities to "better understand the reasons for the decision to obtain assurance that the process has been fair and transparent, has accorded sufficient weight to recognized experts and established industry practices, and that the decision is not effectively an anti-development decision."

It added at the time that it had also engaged with First Nations and Métis communities in the region at the earliest stages of the project.

Grassy Mountain was the first of a number of projects proposed for the area. 

Two other companies with coal leases in the area — Montem Resources and Atrum — said in the wake of the review panel's decision in June that they would press on with their mining plans.

Last year, the provincial government revoked a 1976 policy that protected the eastern slopes of the Rockies from open-pit coal mining.

In April, the province said it would suspend coal exploration activity in lands classified as "Category 2" under the policy until an ongoing public consultation concluded.

In response to a request for comment, a spokesperson for Energy Minister Sonya Savage referenced a statement made in June and attributed to Savage and Alberta Environment Minister Jason Nixon.

"As outlined in the statement, Alberta's government respects the recommendation of the joint review panel," Margeaux Maron said in an email.

With files from Robson Fletcher

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