Minister of Environment and Climate Change Jonathan Wilkinson speaks via video link during a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on May 14, 2020. The federal government has announced it will join in an environmental assessment of a major expansion to proposed southern British Columbia coal mine. A spokeswoman for Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson says the decision was made after analyzing the potential of Teck Resources’ Castle project to cause adverse effects within areas of federal jurisdiction. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Federal government to join assessment of Teck coal mine expansion in B.C.

Contamination was a main concern of eight interveners who asked Ottawa to assist B.C. in reviewing the expansion

The federal government will join an environmental assessment of a major expansion to a proposed southern British Columbia coal mine.

“The potential for adverse effects … may not be mitigated through project design, the application of standard mitigation measures, or through existing legislative mechanisms,” says an analysis from the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada.

Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson used the analysis to make his decision, released Wednesday, on the Teck Resources project.

He had already reversed an earlier ruling and announced that Ottawa would take part in a review of the proposed Vista coal project in Alberta. Several other companies have made known their plans to mine coal in that province.

Teck is planning an expansion to its network of coal mines in the Elk Valley area of southeastern B.C. The Castle project would increase the area being mined by about one-third and allow the company to maintain production of steel-making coal at 27,400 tonnes a day.

The review involves fisheries, First Nations and international relations — all areas of federal jurisdiction. The mine expansion would also produce significantly more coal than the threshold required for a federal review.

Teck spokesman Chad Pederson called Wednesday’s announcement an “unfortunate decision.”

“The Castle project has already been proceeding through a rigorous provincial environmental review process,” he said in a statement.

“We will work with the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office and the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada to ensure a co-ordinated review and seek to avoid duplication.”

Wilkinson was not available for an interview.

B.C. Environment Minister George Heyman said the province will co-ordinate federal involvement.

“I appreciate that they understand and have committed to working within provincial timelines while they review matters of federal jurisdiction, such as trans-border issues,” he said in an email.

Lars Sander-Green of Wildsight, one of the groups that asked for a federal assessment, thanked Wilkinson for the decision.

“If Teck can’t show how they can reduce selenium pollution downstream of their mines in the long term … then no reasonable environmental assessment should approve this mine,” he wrote.

The decision also has implications for Alberta, where the government has said it hopes to increase the province’s production of steel-making coal.

Ian Urquhart, conservation director for the Alberta Wilderness Association, welcomed the Teck decision.

“The federal process is a more open, accessible process” — especially compared with Alberta’s, he said.

Urquhart said Ottawa had little choice but to step in.

Teck’s Pederson said the Castle project is ”part of the existing Fording River operations and is necessary to maintain the associated jobs and economic activity.”

The company’s existing mines in the area are responsible for significant problems with selenium, an element toxic in large amounts. Reports on concentrations in area waterways show levels up to four times B.C.’s maximum for drinking water. Monitoring stations near the mines have reported levels 50 times what’s recommended for aquatic health.

READ MORE: Castle Project to expand Teck Coal operations

READ MORE: Conservation groups call for federal assessment of Teck’s Castle Mine

Teck’s own research has reported the near-disappearance of rare cutthroat trout from a 60-kilometre stretch of the Fording River downstream from the company’s four mines.

That water flows into the cross-border Koocanusa Reservoir. The reservoir drains into the Kootenai River, which flows about 200 kilometres across Montana and Idaho.

That contamination was a main concern of eight interveners who asked Ottawa to assist British Columbia in reviewing the expansion.

Those interveners included five First Nations on both sides of the border, 34 environmental organizations and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“Direct and cumulative impacts from coal mining in the Elk Valley have resulted documented impacts to Lake Koocanusa and the Kootenai River water quality, fish and fish habitat in the U.S,” says the protection agency’s submission.

Urquhart suggests Wilkinson’s Teck and Vista decisions are a warning to the Alberta government, which recently revoked a decades-old policy restricting coal development in the province’s foothills and mountains.

“The issue this creates for Alberta is just how difficult it is, even with changes to the coal policy, to have as much control over coal development as (cabinet ministers) would like the province to have.”

— By Bob Weber in Edmonton.

The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

coal mine

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

Just Posted

Deadline looms to take Esquimalt’s waste stream survey

Township wants residents, business owners’ thoughts on integrated resource management

New Oak Bay officer on the traffic beat

Const. Jeff Savoy a ‘top traffic enforcement officer’

West Shore Rotary Club raises $20,000 with Golf Ball Drop fundraiser

Nearly 4,000 golf balls poured onto Olympic View golf course Saturday

Construction slows weekend traffic at Millstream overpass

West Shore RCMP recommend Leigh Road exit instead

TRAFFIC: Saanich emergency crews responding to Pat Bay Highway collision

Incident took place at Haliburton Road intersection

B.C. records 98 more COVID-19 cases, most in Lower Mainland

One new senior home outbreak, Surrey Memorial outbreak over

POLL: Do you agree with the decision to call a provincial election for Oct. 24?

British Columbians will put their social distancing skills to the test when… Continue reading

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Vancouver Island Tour de Rock riders roll into Parksville Qualicum Beach

Saturday’s schedule includes Port Alberni, Ucluelet and Tofino, followed by Nanaimo on Sunday

97 distressed horses, cats and dogs seized from farm in Princeton

RCMP assisted as BC SPCA executed search warrant

$250K reward offered as investigation continues into Sea to Sky Gondola vandalism

Police also asking for specific footage of Sea to Sky highway around time of incident

Trudeau ‘disappointed’ by RCMP treatment of Sikh officers over mask issue

World Sikh Organization of Canada said taking Sikh officers off the front lines constitutes discrimination

Most Read