Rocky Mountain coal mining appeals dismissed by Supreme Court of Canada
Canada’s highest court will not hear an appeal of a regulatory decision that blocked the development of an open-pit coal mine in Alberta’s Rockies.
In a decision released Thursday, the Supreme Court denied requests by a coal miner and two First Nations to appeal a decision by Alberta’s energy regulator that found that the proposed Grassy Mountain coal mine in the Crowsnest Pass area was not in the public interest. .
The rejected claims came from the Stoney Nakoda and Piikani First Nations and Benga Mining, which had offered to resume steelmaking coal mining at a site that had previously been mined.
But in June 2021, a joint federal-provincial review panel said the mine’s likely environmental effects on fish and water quality would outweigh what it called low to moderate economic impacts. of the project. Alberta’s regulatory agency rejected Benga’s permit application and the federal government quickly followed suit.
Benga and the two First Nations, which had signed benefits agreements with the company, first asked the Alberta Court of Appeal for leave to appeal the decision. When they were rejected, they went to the Supreme Court.
Benga argued that the joint federal-provincial review panel erred in ignoring the company’s evidence on water quality, fish habitat and project economics. The Piikani and Stoney Nakoda argued that the panel failed to consult them sufficiently on economic matters related to the exercise of their constitutional rights.
As usual, the Supreme Court did not provide reasons for denying leave to appeal.
However, the Alberta court concluded that the plaintiffs were asking the judges to reconsider the evidence, not to correct an error in law. Judge Bernette Ho wrote that Benga was simply asking the court to favor Benga’s expert testimony over other evidence presented.
Regulators are within their rights to decide what evidence to accept or reject, she wrote.
The Alberta decision also found that the committee had extensive information about Indigenous economic benefits and noted that the two First Nations had been free to file any information about those benefits that they wished.
The regulator’s decision on Benga was the first in a series of decisions that have seriously hampered the United Conservative government’s initial plans for a huge expansion of surface coal mining in the Rocky Mountains and the Alberta’s beloved foothills.
Thousands of hectares have been leased for exploration and several mines have been proposed. Strong and near-universal public condemnation of the plans forced the government to back down and issue an order restoring protections for the region.
This, however, brought its own legal problems.
The province now faces two lawsuits from coal companies affected by the reversal.
Atrum Coal Co. argues that the government’s decision damaged its stock price, deprived its shareholders of value and rendered worthless millions of dollars of exploration work already completed. Cabin Ridge Coal, which is a private company, argues that the government’s new policy amounts to the expropriation of its assets.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on September 29, 2022.