Wilkinson Sets End-of-July Deadline to Decide on Vista Coal Mine Review
Environment and Climate Minister Jonathan Wilkinson has given himself until the end of this month to decide whether to order a federal environmental assessment of a controversial expansion plan for the Vista coal mine near Hinton, Alberta.
Wilkinson had previously decided in December to allow U.S.-owned Coalspur Mines Ltd. to double or triple the output and export capacity of the mine, without subjecting it to review under the federal Impact Assessment Act, after concluding that provincial review would address potential risks to environmental and Indigenous rights, The Canadian Press reports. But this week, spokesperson Moira Kelly “said the government is studying the issue anew, and Wilkinson will make a fresh decision by the end of July.”
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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,” Kelly wrote in an email to CP.
That word comes after Ecojustice published an open letter and launched a high-profile campaign calling on Wilkinson to revisit his original decision.
Until last year, Canada “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 2% was thermal coal for power. The rest is metallurgical coal, with different composition, used to make steel,” CP explains.
But “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.”
Earlier this month, Ecojustice lawyer Fraser Thomson told The Mix that Coalspur could push the mine’s output as high as 20 million tonnes per year.
“If we’re not OK burning coal at home, we shouldn’t be OK feeding coal for consumption overseas,” he told CP. “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.”
When Canada led formation of the global Powering Past Coal Alliance at COP 23 in Bonn in 2017, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called coal “the dirtiest of all fossil fuels,” CP recalls.
“Let me be very blunt about this. Coal represents perhaps the greatest challenge to the world not meeting its climate change targets,” the PM said at the time. “Unless we reduce coal consumption, we are not going to be able to prevent catastrophic global warming.”