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Company wants to appeal decision that rejected proposed Alberta open-pit coal mine

In the court filing, Benga said a June 17 decision by a joint federal-provincial review panel, including the Alberta Energy Regulator, contains errors of law and procedural fairness that warrant the granting of permission to appeal. 
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A sign opposing coal development is shown in the eastern slopes of the Livingston range southwest of Longview, Alta., on June 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

CALGARY — The company behind a proposed open-pit coal mine in Alberta's Rocky Mountains has filed a request to appeal a decision by a review panel that rejected the project as being not in the public interest. 

Benga Mining Limited filed the request Friday with the Court of Appeal of Alberta in regard to its Grassy Mountain Coal Project. 

In the court filing, Benga said a June 17 decision by a joint federal-provincial review panel, including the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER), contains errors of law and procedural fairness that warrant the granting of permission to appeal. 

In the June decision, the review panel said the significant adverse environmental effects on west slope cutthroat trout and surface water quality likely to be caused by the mine outweigh the low to moderate positive economic impacts of the project. 

Benga said the metallurgical coal mine in the Crowsnest Pass area of southwestern Alberta would create hundreds of jobs and produce up to 4.5 million tonnes of coal per year over a mine life of about 23 years. 

The application for the appeal is to be heard on Sept. 9.

Benga contends that the joint review panel (JRP) "erred in law by ignoring relevant evidence from Benga, or misconstruing that evidence, regarding surface water quality, the west slope cutthroat trout and habitat, and project economics," reads the appeal application.

"As a result, the JRP, in its capacity as the AER, improperly found Benga’s evidence and plans to be inadequately developed and potential benefits overstated."

Last month, the panel advised federal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson to turn the mine down. It has also denied the project's permit applications under provincial laws. 

At the time, Alberta Environment Minister Jason Nixon and Energy Minister Sonya Savage said the panel's conclusions proved the rigour of the province's regulatory system.

Katie Morrison of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society said Friday it will be watching Benga's appeal application closely.

"The joint review panel made a decision that they didn't like and now they are appearing to try to find fault with that process rather than accepting that they put forward a project in a high-risk area for environmental and social values," she said.

"They were never guaranteed approval. They didn't make their case that they could properly protect those values that Albertans care about."

The mine is the first of a number of coal projects proposed for the mountains and foothills of Alberta's western boundary. 

The exploration rush took off last year after the United Conservative government revoked a decades-old policy that protected the area against open-pit coal mines. It sparked public outrage from First Nations, municipalities, and thousands of Albertans. 

In response, the province restored the policy, paused the sale of new leases, and suspended permits for exploration work on the most sensitive landscapes.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July, 16, 2021 

The Canadian Press