The province's energy regulator says it's open to public hearings for the Grassy Mountain coal mine.

The proposal by Northback Holdings, formerly Benga Mining, would be for the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains.

The project has already been turned down twice, by the province and by federal regulators.

According to a letter released last Thursday, Feb. 22. on Meta, it made the determination after it got clarification from Energy Minister Brian Jean.

"The AER received clarification on Ministerial Order 002/2022 (the MO) and the definition of an advanced coal project in a letter from the Minister of Energy on November 16, 2023 (the ‘Minister’s Letter’- Attachment 1). The Minister’s Letter provides that once a project summary has been submitted  and a project is considered an advanced coal project, it remains as such regardless of previous application outcomes. 

The AER is vested with authority to decide whether the application lands are subject to an ‘advanced coal project’ and whether to accept Northback’s applications. The AER is also mindful that one of the stated objectives of section 67 of the Responsible Energy Development Act is to allow the Minister to provide, by order, ‘guidelines for the Regulator to follow in the carrying out of its powers, duties, and functions’. 

Bearing this in mind, a letter from the Minister of Energy clarifying the application of the MO, a binding direction to the AER from the same Minister, carries significant weight. 

Further, section 3 of the MO specifies that written notice may be given by the Minister of Energy to the  AER to accept applications on Category 3 and 4 lands.

As contemplated in the MO and the Minister’s Letter, a project summary was previously submitted to the AER for the purposes of determining whether an environmental impact assessment was required. Accordingly, the AER has determined that the Category 4 lands upon which application activities have 
been proposed are subject to an ‘advanced coal project’. It has therefore accepted the applications filed by Northback.

The AER has also determined pursuant to section 33(1) of the REDA, that the applications should be set down for a hearing. "

Area landowners, ranchers and municipalities fear water contamination and water shortages if the mining goes ahead.