Edmonton Journal

Mayor of High River raises alarm over future coal mines

- MATTHEW BLACK With files from The Canadian Press mblack@postmedia.com

The mayor of a southern Alberta town says he's concerned a recent decision by the province's energy regulator could possibly revive a twice-rejected coal mine proposal and also open the door to similar projects.

The $800-million Grassy Mountain coal project was forecast to produce 93 million tonnes during its planned 25-year lifespan while operating near Crowsnest Pass. But, the project applicatio­n was denied by the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) in June 2021 and rejected by the federal government two months later due to its environmen­tal impact.

In March 2022, then-energy minister Sonya Savage issued a ministeria­l order pausing coal mine exploratio­n and developmen­t across much of the province's Rocky Mountains and Eastern Slopes.

That order also identified four “advanced projects,” including Grassy Mountain.

Last Nov. 16, Energy Minister Brian Jean wrote a letter to Laurie Pushor, CEO of AER, including a “clarificat­ion” that those four projects could still be pursued.

High River Mayor Craig Snodgrass told Postmedia he fears the Grassy Mountain project continuing could signal more, similar projects are on their way.

“This is an Alberta issue. This is not just about Grassy Mountain.”

“Albertans have been loud and clear over the past number of years that the vast majority of Albertans do not want any new exploratio­n or any new mines on our Eastern Slopes.”

High River is located about a two-hour drive northeast of Crowsnest Pass.

He said he's also concerned about water usage for the proposed project, which includes a plan to use water from an existing mine pond.

“Especially right now in this drought, even remotely considerin­g exploratio­n of any kind to draw on those on the headwaters of the Eastern Slopes is absolutely ludicrous.”

He also took issue with the optics of what he characteri­zed as the minister attempting to influence the AER, and took issue with the regulator's definition of an advanced project.

The AER defines an advanced project as one that had already been submitted at the time of Savage's ministeria­l order for the purposes of determinin­g whether an environmen­tal impact assessment is required.

Jean was not made available for an interview Wednesday or Thursday.

In a written statement, his office said only the AER has the technical expertise to evaluate the project.

The Municipali­ty of Crowsnest Pass was more supportive of the possibilit­y of the project's revival, though area landowners and ranchers told The Canadian Press they were less in favour.

The next step, according to the AER, is for a new round of hearings to be held, “to ensure a transparen­t and well-informed technical review.”

“The hearing will determine whether Northback can move forward with drilling and exploratio­n at Grassy Mountain.”

Those hearings would be overseen by a panel, though it's not yet clear how it would work.

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