Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson will make a decision by the end of July about the approval process for a major coal-mine expansion in Alberta, in a July 16, 2020 story. (By THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Environment minister reconsidering decision to stay out of Alberta coal-mine review

Wilkinson to decide by the end of July

OTTAWA — Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson is reconsidering a decision in December to keep the federal government out of the approvals process for a major coal-mine expansion in Alberta.

The existing Vista mine, which is owned by the U.S. coal giant Cline Group, began shipping coal for export in May 2019 and the company is now looking to double, or possibly even triple, its output.

Fraser Thomson is a lawyer for Ecojustice, one of 47 environment, Indigenous, health and faith-based organizations that this week wrote to Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson asking him to take a second look at the expansion.

Wilkinson declined in December to order a federal impact assessment of the project near Hinton, Alta., between Edmonton and Jasper, saying the potential risks to the environment and Indigenous rights would be dealt with by a provincial approval process.

That was the ultimate in ”climate hypocrisy,” Thomson said Wednesday.

Thomson said if this were a brand new mine, rather than an expansion, it would automatically trigger a federal assessment. Wilkinson has the power to order such an assessment of this one even though it is not mandatory, said Thomson.

In an emailed statement, Wilkinson’s spokeswoman Moira Kelly said the government is studying the issue anew and Wilkinson will make a fresh decision by the end of July.

Thomson said the federal government’s decision to wash its hands of the decision in December does not jibe with its three-year-old program to convince the world to wean itself off coal power. Canada and the United Kingdom jointly launched the Powering Past Coal Alliance in 2017, aiming to convince the world’s wealthiest countries to eliminate coal as a source of electricity by 2030, and the rest of the world to do so by 2050.

Canada is phasing coal power out domestically now, with the four provinces that still use coal to make electricity working on plans for stopping.

When the alliance began in November 2017, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called coal “the dirtiest of all fossil fuels.”

“Let me be very blunt about this. Coal represents perhaps the greatest challenge to the world not meeting its climate-change targets,” Trudeau said. “Unless we reduce coal consumption, we are not going to be able to prevent catastrophic global warming.”

Until 2019, Canada also didn’t export very much coal for power generation at all. In 2018, of 32 million tonnes of coal exported by Canadian firms, less than two per cent was thermal coal for power. The rest is metallurgical coal, with different composition, used to make steel.

The Vista mine changed that, with as much as six million tonnes of coal produced each year, all of it for export and mostly to Asia. The expansion will increase that to between 13 million and 15 million tonnes.

Thomson said the phase-out of thermal coal in Canada is one of the best climate policies Canada has implemented. Coal accounts for less than 10 per cent of Canada’s electricity, but generates more than three-quarters of the greenhouse-gas emissions from electricity production.

“If we’re not OK burning coal at home we shouldn’t be OK feeding coal for consumption overseas,” he said. “If you are a country that is being lobbied by Canada to phase out coal, you’re going to see how hypocritical that request is if the very coal that you’re burning is coming from Canadian mines.”

About 38 per cent of the world’s power comes from coal now.

Besides studying the Vista project in particular, Kelly said the government is examining coal more broadly.

“We have also launched a strategic assessment on thermal coal to better understand the potential impact of thermal coal mining activity, to ensure effects within federal jurisdiction — especially related to climate change — are fully considered in the federal impact-assessment process,” she wrote.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 15, 2020.

coal mine

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

(BLACK PRESS file photo)
Lacombe man charged after weekend stabbing

Police are asking anyone with information about the incident to come forward

The event was hosted by Darcy Stingel with audio and video support provided by Airace Productions. (Alannah Page/Lacombe Express)
Lacombe Business and Community Awards celebrates local resiliency

The awards held Saturday night were streamed by roughly 100 people across the city

Lacombe’s Got Talent hosted the finale at Lacombe’s Performing Arts Centre on Sunday Oct. 25. (Alannah Page/Lacombe Express)
Lacombe’s Got Talent: Finale showcased a wide variety of local artists

Organizers are hoping to have the local talent show become a regular event in the future.

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, confirmed more than 1,000 cases over the weekend Monday afternoon. File photo
COVID-19: Central zone active cases up Monday

‘We’ve now crossed the tipping point,’ says Hinshaw

Ryen Williams, 11, with a lost miniature horse at JJ Collett Oct. 23. Photo by Don Williams
UPDATE: Owner found

Father and son found miniature horse while out for a walk at JJ Collett

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson, B.C. NDP leader John Horgan and B.C. Greens leader Sonia Furstenau. (Black Press Media)
VIDEO: One day until B.C. voters go to the polls in snap election defined by pandemic

NDP Leader John Horgan’s decision to call an election comes more than a year ahead of schedule and during a pandemic

Cases in Ponoka (East Ponoka County) as of Oct. 27. (alberta.ca)
Diagnosed cases of COVID-19 at three Ponoka businesses

Town ‘strongly encouraging’ residents to wear non-medical masks in public

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau provides an update on the COVID pandemic during a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau says pandemic ‘really sucks,’ and that Christmas gatherings are up in the air

The prime minister encouraged residents to continue to follow the advice of local health authorities

The Williams Lake Indian Band is stipulating no-go zones for mushroom picking in areas burned by last summer’s wildfires. 100 Mile Free Press photo
Who controls mushroom harvesting on Indigenous lands?

‘We don’t necessarily know where the mushrooms grow, how old the stands need to be, those types of things.’

Canadian and American flags fly near the Ambassador Bridge at the Canada/USA border crossing in Windsor, Ont. on Saturday, March 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Rob Gurdebeke
U.S. election results one factor that could impact immigration to Canada next year

The survey polled 1,523 Canadians between Oct. 23 and Oct. 25

Alberta’s provincial flag flies on a flag pole in Ottawa, Monday July 6, 2020. The Alberta government is hoping to get more Albertans employed by moving to limit the number and type of temporary foreign workers it allows into the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Alberta to limit temporary foreign worker program to save jobs for Albertans

Temporary foreign workers already in the province won’t be affected

(Emily Jaycox/Bashaw Star)
Wreath laying ceremony held in Manfred, Alta.

Ceremony marks 64th anniversary of Hungarian revolution, honours settlers

Royal Alexandra Hospital front-line workers walk a picket line after walking off the job in a wildcat strike in Edmonton, on Monday, October 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta labour board orders health-care staff who walked off the job to go back to work

Finance Minister Travis Toews said in a news release that he was pleased with the labour board’s decision

Wetaskiwin Hospital staff join AUPE walk outs across the province Monday Oct. 26, 2020. Shaela Dansereau/ The Pipestone Flyer.
City of Wetaskiwin health-care workers strike in protest of province-wide cuts

Wetaskiwin Hospital staff join other front line hospital workers across the province in walk-outs.

Most Read