Thank you Mr. Nikiforuk for your exemplary reporting. I believe it’s the main reason Grassy Mountain is spared Rinehart’s greed and Kenney’s/UCP’s betrayals and idiocy.
AER and the feds don’t give a shit about us, other species, water or the environment. They’ve made that clear for decades.
A++ comment to The Tyee article below:
annie_fiftyseven, June 20, 2021:
“Who Saved Alberta’s Mountaintops and Precious Clean Water? Albertans”
Honestly, who threatens Alberta’s Mountaintops, and Precious Clean Water? Albertans.
I think the UCP’s and their voters will get to those watersheds one way or another.
Consistency is key.
April 9, 2021 – “Alberta must retract Forest Act before it becomes law: Treaty 8 grand chief – The UCP government has increased the logging industry’s annual allowable cut
The Alberta government must pull back its new Forest Act before it becomes law next month, says the grand chief of the province’s northern First Nations.
‘We expect the province to suspend the new Forest Act immediately,’ Arthur Noskey of Treaty 8 First Nations said Thursday. ‘We are asking [the government] to pull this back and consult with us.’
The United Conservatives passed the act late last year and it is to come into effect May 1.
… Noskey said increased logging is taking a toll on the animals and forests his people depend on.
‘The forest is being overharvested,’ he said. ‘There’s a chain reaction to everything that’s done.’
The UCP government has increased the industry’s annual allowable cut.
Forestry Minister Devin Dreeshen has told the legislature that the harvest has increased 13 per cent since last May and that he wants another 20 per cent increase.
It’s not clear where that extra timber will come from in Alberta’s already heavily allocated forests, said Grace Wark of the Alberta Wilderness Association. She said that could mean cutting on steeper slopes or returning earlier to areas burned by wildfire.
‘Those areas have greater impacts on biodiversity and are more challenging to recover,’ she said.
A government website says the act will bring ‘a more expedient return’ of burned areas to harvest. It also says the harvest will be increased by cutting in unallocated parts of already approved areas.
Wark said there has been little transparency and even less dialogue.
‘There’s been no public consultation on this.’
… Noskey said the province is obliged to consult with First Nations on a government-to-government basis and not just a few phone calls. He said courts have ruled that governments can’t simply delegate First Nations consultations to companies doing the work.
‘It seems like we have to force the government to the table.’
He accused the province of rushing the legislation through while the public is distracted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
‘We are for the economy, but we want to do it in a way that respects the land,’ Noskey said. ‘It seems with this UCP government nobody cares about the environment.
It’s a free-for-all.'”
May 12, 2021 – “UCP government making it easier to harvest trees in Alberta
Last week, the Government of Alberta announced that they were making changes to the Forestry Act. I thought I’d go through the new Act, compare it with the previous version, and highlight some of the more significant changes being made.
Let’s start with section 8.1:
‘8.1 The Minister may, by order, prescribe or provide for the method of prescribing
(a) fees and other charges to be paid in connection with the submission of anything to the Crown or for any service or thing provided by the Crown under this Act and the regulations
(b) rates to be charged for the use of employees and equipment
and facilities of the Minister’s department.’
This is a brand new section. And it seems as though it’s giving the minister over forestry broad powers to unilaterally change the fees that the government charges those who harvest trees on public land.
Under section 17 on quotas, the following were added:
’17(5) Notwithstanding section 18(4), the director may authorize a timber quota holder to harvest Crown timber under the quota holder’s timber quota without obtaining a timber licence.
17(6) With the exception of section 25(6), every provision under the At or regulations that applies in respect of a timber licence applies, with any necessary modifications, in respect of a timber quota referred to in subsection (5).’
What is section 18(4)? Well, I’m glad you asked.
’18(4) A timber quota holder shall not commence harvesting timber
until the quota holder has obtained a timber licence.’
This section literally says you can’t harvest timber—even if you’re a quota holder—unless you have a licence first. The new section 17(5) says that the director can waive that requirement, allowing anyone to forgo needing a licence to harvest timber.
And what about section 25(6) mentioned in section 17(6)?
’25(6) The Minister may reinstate a suspended or cancelled timber licence or timber permit on application by the holder within 60 days after the date of suspension or cancellation if the Minister is satisfied that the holder has reasonably complied with any order that the Minister has made for the purpose of reinstating the timber licence or timber permit.’
Not only can the minister decide who gets to harvest without a licence, but they get to personally decide who gets to have their suspended license reinstated. All the person has to do is convince the minister that they’ve ‘reasonably complied’ with any reinstatement requirements that the minister has set.
So, the minister sets the reinstatement requirements then personally decides whether the person or entity meets those requirements.
Another change is a slight modification to section 18(5):
’18(5) The harvesting of timber under the authority of a quota certificate must be carried out, subject to section 19, in consecutive 5- or 10-year harvest periods, each called a quadrant.’
Previously, this section limited harvest periods to just 5 years. The new act added 10-year harvest periods.
The new act completely removed section 23:
’23 No timber licence or timber permit, except for non-commercial use, may be issued until the applicant has satisfied the director that the applicant has complied with the Workers’ Compensation Act.’
So, I guess you can get a timber licence without complying with workers’ compensation?
It also changed section 25(3) to remove the previous requirement of the minister to obtain cabinet approval before cancel a forest management agreement. Likewise, the minister no longer needs cabinet approval for reinstating a suspended or cancelled forest management agreement, as of the new section 25(5).
The government has changed timber dues as well.”
May 03, 2021 – “Bringing the Forests Act into the 21st century
Legislative and regulatory changes that support a more competitive forest sector are now in effect.
Changes made to the outdated five-decade-old Forests Act will bolster Alberta’s competitive forest sector by supporting reliable and consistent access to trees. These changes come at a time when North America is experiencing record demand for wood products.
… The Forests Act was last substantially updated in 1971.
The Forests Act provides for and defines the powers to establish regulations related to forestry and provides for the establishment of forest tenure or the right to harvest Crown timber.
The Forests (Growing Alberta’s Forest Sector) Amendment Act, 2020, received royal assent on Dec. 9, 2020, with changes coming into force on May 1, 2021.”
I wonder if Albertan’s will ever get tired of destroying their environment and fighting themselves.
Thank you for the informative article Andrew. What a bloody circle-jerk.
Who Saved Alberta’s Mountaintops and Precious Clean Water? Albertans, The Grassy Mountain project is dead. No thanks to the Kenney government or regulators, who normally cave to coal by Andrew Nikiforuk, June 18, 2021, TheTyee.ca
After a federal-provincial review panel gave a resounding thumbs down to the Grassy Mountain coal project Thursday, Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage and so-called Environment Minister Jason Nixon issued a contrite statement.
It is always remarkable to watch political wolves act like sheep.
Both ministers, who have championed open-pit mining in the Rockies by Australian companies (Nixon even had the gall to write a letter of support for one group of speculators), said they would respect the unequivocal rejection by the Alberta Energy Regulator.
“In this case, the process worked as it should,” said the sheepish ministers in a joint statement.
But that’s simply not true. The system only worked because it was dragged, kicking and screaming, into the real world by the people of Alberta.
Unlike the Jason Kenney government, Albertans understand in a visceral way that water is the only true treasure in an arid land, and that mountain brooks quickly lose their song if we dig up all the rocks for coking coal to fuel steel mills.
Let’s be clear. A functioning system would never have considered planting an economically dodgy open-pit coal mine in the middle of a critical watershed that supplies clean water to more than a million Canadians any more than the city of Calgary would consider putting a latrine next to a public swimming pool.
Nor would an accountable system line up another seven projects in the same watershed and pretend it’s a good idea.
But three powerful events forced a corrupt system, which typically never says no to Big Capital, to reject the coal project: democracy, public science and shoddy environmental work by Benga Mining, which is owned by the Australian billionaire Gina Rinehart.
Let’s begin with the latter: Benga’s poor environmental assessment. Lorne Fitch, a veteran of numerous public hearings and a retired provincial fish biologist, said it was probably the worst document he had ever read.
It was so deficient that federal government repeatedly asked the company for more information over a four-year period. Yet significant details on impacts on water and fish never surfaced. Benga’s performance, as the panel’s decision details in depth, made it almost impossible for even Alberta regulators to approve the project.
The second factor that insured the project’s demise was raw democracy in the form of tens of thousands of Albertans.
Citizens of all stripes and colours formed a loose coalition to defend water quality and the beauty of the Rockies’ eastern slopes. They simply had the good sense to say no to coal bullshit. If anything, the Alberta government has belatedly learned that it is probably not a good idea to piss off Corb Lund, a great musician who hates politics but loves the mountains.
This giant public wave of protest, probably the largest and longest demonstration for water security and the environment in the history of Alberta, forced the Kenney government to backtrack on its many backroom deals with Aussie coal miners.
The third factor was the power of science marshalled by grassroots organizations in the absence of any responsible leadership by the Alberta government.
Not trusting the government or its regulatory process, the Livingstone Landowners Group, for example, hired six prominent scientists, including Alberta’s respected land use ecologist Brad Stelfox, to model the impacts of proposed projects on water security in an arid county.
The group’s comprehensive study, which the government should have performed years ago, found even limited coking coal mining would create intractable problems with water quality and quantity, including selenium contamination. Climate change only compounds the risks.
So democracy, science and Benga’s poor work all ganged up on a dysfunctional system and forced yaysayers to become naysayers.
Given these forces, the joint review panel concluded that the mine, which would have knocked the top off 15 square kilometres of the Rockies in the Crowsnest Pass, was, as a testy Sid Marty told them, “the wrong project, in the wrong place, in the wrong century.”
They concluded what was obvious to Albertans a long time ago: that the mine would result “in significant adverse environmental effects on surface water quality, westslope cutthroat trout and their habitat, whitebark pine, rough fescue grasslands, and vegetation species and community biodiversity.”
Benga Mining claimed during a public hearing last year that its mountain-top removal project wouldn’t have any significant impacts on fish or water, because it had effective ways to mitigate them. (Mitigate is one of those nasty plastic words that industry and government just love because it can justify the murder of wild places.)
But the panel simply didn’t believe the company any more than Albertans did. “We find that in some cases the claimed effectiveness of the proposed measures was overly optimistic and not supported by the evidence provided,” found the panel. “As a result, we are not confident about the technical and economic feasibility of some proposed mitigation measures.”
Selenium was also a big issue. In neighbouring B.C., Teck Resources has polluted waterways with selenium leaching from its coking coal mines.
But Benga promised to keep the toxic chemical out of Alberta waterways with a spiffy new technology called “a saturated backfill zone.” The company vowed the technology would capture 95 to 98 per cent of its selenium, even though no other metallurgical coal company has ever achieved this goal.
Once again, the panel said they didn’t believe Benga. “Benga did not provide sufficient evidence to demonstrate that the saturated backfill zones can achieve the high degree of effectiveness necessary at the scale of this project.”
The company also promised to do a bang-up job putting the mountain back together again with its reclamation schemes.
But the panel didn’t find them credible. “We are not confident that all of Benga’s proposed reclamation measures are technically feasible and would result in the restoration of important vegetation species and communities removed during development of the project.”
The panel also didn’t buy Benga’s claims about economic benefits. The company, for instance, said it would enrich government coffers with $30 million a year in royalties, even though the province only charges a one-per-cent royalty for coking coal.
“However, as Benga did not submit key methodological details and models to support its estimates, we are not able to verify the magnitude of the estimated benefits. Additionally, we are not confident that Benga’s estimate of future royalty payments of $30 million per year is accurate,” the panel concluded.
And the panel didn’t think that Benga Mining would benefit First Nations, though the company diligently secured secret impact benefit agreements with many leaders.
But many Blackfoot opposed the project. They said it would destroy a sacred landscape where the creator of this world Napi (Old Man) once played and roamed. What kind of company puts a coal mine in the heart of a people’s genesis story?
And so the panel found that the project would have a “significant adverse effect on physical and cultural heritage for the Káínai, Piikani, and Siksika.”
Decisions of this nature in Alberta are as rare as hen’s teeth.
It’s instructive that panel reached its conclusions without hearing a shred of evidence from the fish and water experts working for the people of Alberta, because their government did not allow them to testify.
Not one scientist from the Kenney government spoke about water security or the hazards of selenium during the hearing.
In other words, the panel relied solely on evidence presented by the Livingstone Landowners Group, the Alberta Wilderness Association, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Association, private landowners and federal scientists.
It was a mass of organized citizens concerned about water that forced a government to make the “system” work.
Nor has the power of democracy finished fighting the desperately wrong idea of planting coal mines in the Rockies, noted Ian Urquhart, conservation director for the Alberta Wilderness Association.
“The Grassy Mountain decision, combined with federal Environment and Climate Change Minister Jonathan Wilkinson’s decision to subject all proposed metallurgical coal mines to federal impact assessments, delivers a one-two punch to these financially struggling companies,” said Urquhart. “It may well knock them both out.”
It may well do that. Savage and Nixon can pretend “the system” worked and defended water security in a dry land.
But it was Albertans who rallied and did that alone, without their government.
Refer also to:
Murray Sinclair defines the oil & gas industry’s most evil tool: Coastal Gaslink Pipeline Ltd.’s community-benefits agreements with elected Indigenous chiefs and councils are “Promise payment for silence” aka gag orders.
AER says no to Grassy Mountain Coal Mine. Must be the “F*ck You Kenney, Mountains Not Mines” mugs going around, reporting by Andrew Nikiforuk, thousands of Albertans yelling “NO!” and study by Brad Stelfox et. al. because “Public Interest” is nowhere in REDA or AER’s mandate.
Nikiforuk: What Kenney Had to Kill to Embrace Coal Alberta’s 1976 Coal Policy protected vital drinking water supplies for much of the province. That’s gone now.