July 16th, 2024

Money has paved the way for huge coal mining lobbying effort

By Lethbridge Herald on October 11, 2023.


Money talks. It says, “Bend over.” The persistence of Benga, now renamed Northback, an Australian mining company owned by mogul Gina Rinehart is testament to never accepting no for an answer. Money has paved the way for an intensive lobbying effort with Alberta politicians and bureaucrats, only exceeded by the effort displayed by the petroleum industry.

The now infamous Grassy Mountain coal mine proposal has already been turned down by a joint federal/provincial panel, on environmental, economic, social and health grounds. The proponent, believing they had the fast track to a mine based on promises from the UCP government, was furious and appealed the decision. The courts refused to hear the appeal, no doubt believing this had already been dealt with in the panel proceedings.

Channelling Mark Twain for a moment, in terms of his view of mines, Grassy Mountain has become a metaphorical hole in the ground, into which power, influence and money are poured. From that hole in the ground the owners hope for an answer that does not include “no.”

Northback must believe firmly in the proposition that heads they win, tails they get to flip again. It must be so, because they are back, flipping under a new name (as if that makes any difference) and applying for a new exploration permit, for the same thing they were turned down on in 2021.

If nothing else they deserve credit for brass and chutzpah.

The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) is currently accepting statements of concern about this resurrected mine proposal from Albertans. This is the same agency that failed to advise downstream residents of a serious leak in a tar sands tailings pond for months, until confronted by the issue. In the case of this coal exploration proposal they are subjecting Albertans to a flawed form that the agency laughingly calls “user friendly.” Virtually at the beginning of the form you are told you have to be directly and adversely affected by the activity to register a concern.

Woe betide you if you are a downstream water drinker, breathe air coming from the proposed mine site, are an angler, a hunter, a camper, a naturalist, a rancher or any Albertan who has already emphatically said no to coal development in the Eastern Slopes. You will not penetrate the economic cordon imposed by the AER.

Mind you, you shouldn’t have to since we’ve been through this, a decision has been made and nothing, absolutely nothing has changed, except maybe the drought has heightened our concern over water. This might matter, except in Alberta where you have to endlessly parse the fine print for wiggle room, exceptions and deviations.

The 2022 Ministerial Order restricts coal projects but does allow for exceptions for “active coal mines, for advanced coal projects and for safety and security activities.”  However, the definition of “advanced” means a project is already moving through a regulatory process. The current application for coal exploration on Grassy Mountain does not meet this test.  

One needs to sift through this with a large degree of incredulity. This project is not in a regulatory process and none of the conditions of the 2022 Ministerial Order have yet been met. Why it is even being considered by the AER is a mystery.  I would agree it is an “advanced” project, one that has advanced through a prior legitimate process of review and scrutiny. It has advanced to the point of rejection.

The fumbling by the AER and the government of Alberta on this file defies belief and suggests several things. Is there an attempt to subvert both the Ministerial Order and AER process?  It raises serious questions on whether lobbying efforts have been successful at circumventing government policy related to coal exploration and development. One hopes that when money talks, policy and the broader public interest don’t walk. It also calls into question how many times “no” has to be applied before it sticks.

Lorne Fitch is a Professional Biologist, a retired Fish and Wildlife Biologist and a former Adjunct Professor with the University of Calgary.

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old school

Common sense talks. I suppose Fitch lives in a cardboard box and uses no modern amenities. Oh, I’m wrong! He lives well ,enjoys all modern easy living.He must appreciate all the “made in China” conveniences. Not in my back yard. Sad mentality. There could easily be clean coal mining on Grassy Mountain. And yes , I live downstream and use water.


‘Clean coal’ – more magical thinking.

There’s no sense in polluting our streams and rivers (our drinking water) for a sunset industry.

Starting a mountain-top removal for coal at this juncture reminds me of the final scene of “All Quiet on the Western Front”


clean coal? as in, what, very black fairy dust?
btw – our dependence on a massive human rights abuser that is china is indeed quite awful. we can say as much with regard to our imports of saudi oil and exports of military equipment to them – another of the planet’s huge human rights abusers. however, that has nothing to do with whether or not we decide to mine coal. canada is at its best as an innovator, not a follower. put another way, we can either show the way, or be shown…and owned. kind of like our decrepit relationship with the usa, anpther of the planet’s huge human rights abusers, where we bow to their oligarchs and bend over to their transgressions.
with regard to disgusting rinehart mining empire, we are best to keep that lot as far away from us as possible. and then take solace in the outlook that what we don’t mine doesn’t matter.


Beyond the obvious capture of this government by big money, this is also another middle finger to rule of law. We are being ruled by the trinity of Premier Parker, Press Secratary Smith and the holy spirit if Libertarianism.


brilliant! with thanks.

Southern Albertan

And how much water would an open pit coal mine need/day/week/month…?
There is already, the glaring reality that we may need to restrict water use in southern Alberta this coming winter. Who would the Smith UCP serve first? Their big, foreign-owned corporate coal friends or their rural, irrigation agriculture voting base in southern Alberta…..
We may be, already, into a severe dwindling water resource. Priorities?