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The battle over a coal mine in Alberta’s southern Rocky Mountains continues to rage six months after the Grassy Mountain project was turned down, as the company and its opponents argue over who is paying the costs. hearing which rejected the proposal.

Benga Mining, bearing the costs, wants them to be drastically reduced and says some groups owe the company money.

Environmental groups say their costs fund vital public debate and add that Benga’s aggressive response makes it difficult for those who question the claims of resource companies.

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“Benga’s attempt to challenge the motives of … public interest stakeholders is utterly inaccurate, unfair, and sets (a) a mean and confrontational tone,” a letter from the Timberwolf Conservation Society to the Alberta Energy Regulator reads. the costs that Benga has to pay. .

Alberta law allows citizens who appear before regulatory bodies to request reimbursement of their costs from project developers. The law aims to make those who benefit from development pay the expenses necessary to ensure that it is done well.

In June, the regulator rejected Benga Mining’s application for the Grassy Mountain mine at Crowsnest Pass in Alberta, a rare refusal later echoed by the federal government, which also participated in the review. Benga appealed against this decision.

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Four environmental groups, a municipality, a First Nation and an individual have requested a total of $ 1.3 million to try to recoup the costs of expert testimony, legal advice and research, according to the regulator .

But Benga has the right to question the claims and does. In a letter from lawyer Martin Ignasiak, the company suggests these groups were not constructive.

“Benga sees the (assessment) procedure and (regulator’s) cost regime as processes intended to complement (sic) a system that promotes collaborative efforts and constructive contributions, rather than one that encourages persistent intervention by opposition to any form of development, “it says.

Benga says the groups are well funded and have used Grassy audiences to raise more money. It casts doubt on lawyers’ bills and on the value of reports filed by biologists, hydrologists and other environmental scientists. He points out that some groups also received federal funding for participants.

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He asks the regulator to reduce the claim of the Livingstone Landowners Group – a coalition of local ranchers and landowners – by 61%, to $ 150,000. He says the Timberwolf Conservation Society’s claim should be reduced by 91% to $ 8,200. He wants a claim by the Society for Nature and Parks of Canada reduced by 99% to $ 1,100.

Benga argues that he should not be billed for any of the RM of Ranchlands’ $ 185,000 claims. And his letter says that when cash advances to the Alberta Wilderness Association are counted, the group would be expected to repay the company $ 2,300.

Ignasiak did not respond to a request for comment on his letter.

Normally the regulator makes a cost decision in about 90 days. Plaintiffs at the Grassy Mountain hearing were still waiting after 250 days.

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The delays make it harder for citizens to hire the expertise they need to review the proposals, said Norma Dougall of Livingstone Landowners.

“The reimbursement program is designed to level the playing field, allowing small organizations like ours to participate in the hearing process versus large multinationals,” she wrote in an email.

More coal mining hearings are coming, she said.

“Our experts and lawyers should be paid for their work and will be reluctant to re-engage with us if they are not reimbursed.”

Mike Sawyer, who appeared on behalf of Timberwolf, said delays and discounts on participant funding create an imbalance during public hearings.

“It creates a real deterrent for any professional to work for a member of the public, because they know they are going to get screwed and that they will have to wait months before being paid. “

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Shaun Fluker, a professor of law at the University of Calgary, who has studied the history of the regulatory body in awarding costs, found that between 2004 and 2014, the Alberta Energy Regulator awarded approximately 70% of what was requested. All the candidates were not equal, he noted.

“The amount that this cost claim was reduced by the regulator was considerably higher for people I have called environmental scientists as opposed to an engineering report,” he said. declared.

Environmental scientists received about 60% of what they asked for, Fluker found. Lawyers and engineers both scored over 80 percent. Lawyers were by far the biggest expense.

Alberta Energy Regulator spokeswoman Ottilie Coldbeck said in an email that the Grassy Mountain hearings were exceptionally complex and that the 90-day directive could not be met.

“We don’t know when a decision on the cost claims will be made at the Benga Grassy Mountain hearing,” she wrote.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on December 22, 2021

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