Adding to growing concern over increased mining in the Elk Valley, thirty-three conservation groups have joined the call for a federal assessment of Teck’s Castle mine expansion.
The project would see an expansion of the Fording River Mine, turning Castle into Teck’s primary coal source while increasing the area of mining operations by around 50 percent.
In a press release sent on July 24, Lars Sander-Green, mining coordinator for Wildsight, highlighted issues with provincial assessments of the expansion, stating they only appraised coal mine pollution as far south as the US border.
“Over the last decade, we’ve seen weak provincial environmental assessments for coal mines in the Elk Valley that have allowed water pollution way above safe limits,” said Sander-Green. “That’s why we need a federal assessment, to make sure our clean water and fish are protected, now and in the long-term.”
Both Canadian and American conservation groups have advocated for a federal assessment, asking federal environment minister, Jonathan Wilkinson, to review the proposed mine. Among those groups are the US Kootenai Tribes, the Ktunaxa Nation, and the US Environmental Protection Agency.
The US Sierra Club, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society of British Columbia and Southern Alberta, Amnesty International Canada and Nature Canada have also joined the 750 people who sent messages to both Wilkinson and the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada.
“As much as the province of British Columbia would like to think otherwise, the impacts of their projects absolutely extend beyond their borders,” said Dave Hadden of Headwaters Montana, one of the groups in support of the federal assessment. “These are trans-boundary issues with international implications, and they require a federal response.”
Of the 17 American groups calling for a federal assessment, the majority are especially concerned with water pollution in the Kootenai River through Montana and Idaho, further endangering the white sturgeon living between the Kootenai River and Kootenay Lake.
According to Sander-Green, Canadian conservation groups are worried about the removal of Castle Mountain and its high elevation grassland habitat, an area crucial for bighorn sheep and the travel of wolverines and grizzly bears up and down the continental divide.
Adding to effects, the mine expansion would increase water pollution of the already contaminated Fording River, where the population of the westslope cutthroat trout has been declining for the past two years. Pollution such as selenium from the mine would also increase risks to fish further down the Elk River.
Concerns extend to the climate impacts of coal mining. Sander-Green states that the steel making coal deriving from the Elk Valley adds more carbon pollution to the atmosphere than all the other emissions from vehicles, buildings, farms and factories in the entire province. As a result, an expansion of the mine would significantly push back efforts in reducing carbon emissions.
“We can’t afford to commit to 35 more years of these huge carbon emissions, no matter where in the world they happen,” said Sander-Green. “Castle would operate from roughly 2025-2060. On a global scale, we’re already moving towards steel made with renewable energy instead of coal, and we have lower carbon alternatives that can help that transition that have been in use for 50 years already. We absolutely have to make that transition a lot sooner than 2060 if we want to avoid catastrophic climate change, because steel making is responsible for roughly five per cent of global emissions.”
At the moment, the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada is conducting an analysis and will make a recommendation to the minister about whether or not to appoint the project under the Impact Assessment Act. Wilkinson has until August 19 to order a federal assessment for the Castle mine.