The Government of Canada has determined the proposed Grassy Mountain coal project near the Crowsnest Pass in Alberta cannot move forward. The Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Minister the Hon. Jonathan Wilkinson issued the decision under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act 2012 (CEAA 2012) for the project on August 6, citing potential adverse environmental effects.

Wilkinson said the decision was based on careful deliberation and reviewing information, including the findings of a joint review panel report.

He determined the project, proposed by Benga Mining Ltd. and having a production capacity of 4.5 million metric tons of coal per year over a mine life of 25 years, will likely cause significant adverse environmental effects to surface water quality, including from selenium effluent discharge. He added that it will also likely affect the threatened species Westslope Cutthroat Trout and its habitat; the endangered species Whitebark Pine; and physical and cultural heritage of the Kainai, Piikani and Siksika First Nations.

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

The decision was referred to the governor in council, who said the effects were not justified and thus the project could not proceed.

Benga Mining said it is reviewing the decision with its legal counsel. The company said the decision was made even though it filed applications with the Court of Appeal of Alberta on July 16 and 19, along with two separate First Nations, the Piikani Nation and the Stoney Nakoda Nations, challenging the joint review panel’s (JRP) report. The company claimed the report made a number of “in law and contraventions of procedural fairness and that the JRP’s report was fundamentally and fatally flawed.”

“We are shocked that Canada’s minister of environment should take such a precipitous step before our legal appeal could be heard in court,” Benga CEO John 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. As such, 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.”

Benga has 30 days to apply to the federal court for a judicial review of the minister’s determination.

This project was referred to a review panel on July 16, 2015. On August 16, 2018, the former Minister of the Environment and the Chief Executive Officer of the Alberta Energy Regulator announced the agreement to establish a Joint Review Panel for the Grassy Mountain Coal Project. The Joint Review Panel submitted its report to the minister of environment and climate change on June 17, 2021.