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

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

Just Posted

The Binche Fishing Derby at Stuart Lake is fast approaching. (Binche Fishing Derby Facebook photo)
Binche shares excitement for upcoming fishing derby

“It’s more than just fishing,” says Dave Birdi

A person receives a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
Local youth vaccination clinics underway

Pfizer vaccine will be used

Priya Sharma. (Submitted)
Column: Why ultimatums don’t work

By Priya Sharma It is a common misconception that people can choose… Continue reading

A small pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins pass by close to shore in Campbell River June 16, 2021. Still capture from video courtesy of Kimberly Hart
VIDEO: Dolphin sunset captured from Vancouver Island shore

Spectacular setting for view of travelling pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins

Police are asking for public assistance in locating Anthony Graham who has been charged with the murders of Kamloops brothers Carlo and Erick Fryer. (RCMP photo)
2 charged, suspect at large in killings of B.C. brothers linked to gang activity: RCMP

Kamloops brothers Erick and Carlo Fryer were found deceased in May on a remote Okanagan road

Albert Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney unveil an opening sign after speaking about the Open for Summer Plan and next steps in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta 1st province in Canada to lift all COVID-19 public health restrictions

70.2% of eligible citizens 12 and older in the province have received a dose of the vaccine

Fraser Health registered nurse Ramn Manan draws a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine into a syringe at a walk-up vaccination clinic at Bear Creek Park, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, May 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Honour our fathers’ with COVID-19 vaccine protection, B.C. urges

109 new cases Friday, 75 per cent of 12 and up immunized

(Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
Trutch Avenue in Chilliwack to be renamed to remove racist taint

New name to have Indigenous significance as Chilliwack takes new step toward reconciliation

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is seen during a joint news conference following the EU-Canada Summit, in Brussels, Belgium, Tuesday June 15, 2021. Trudeau says Canada is on track now to have 68 million doses delivered by the end of July, which is more than enough to fully vaccinate all 33.2 million Canadians over the age of 12. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Vaccine deliveries enough to fully vaccinate all eligible Canadians by end of July

Three in four eligible Canadians now have their first dose, nearly one in five fully vaccinated.

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam listens to a question during a news conference, in Ottawa, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases attributed to the highly contagious Delta variant grew in Canada this week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s public health agency reports spike in confirmed cases of Delta variant

More than 2,000 cases of the variant confirmed across all 10 provinces and in one territory

Bella Bella is on B.C.’s Central Coast, accessible only by air and ocean. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)
B.C. provides $22 million for Heiltsuk development on Central Coast

Elders care home project, tourism, lumber mill supported

The federal government says it wants to ban most flavoured vaping products in a bid to reduce their appeal to youth. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Craig Mitchelldyer
Health Canada proposes ban on most vaping flavours it says appeal to youth

If implemented, the regulations would restrict all e-cigarette flavours except tobacco, mint and menthol

Most Read