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

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

Just Posted

Caleb Wykes, Jade Daniel and Alicia Dennis celebrate Australia Day at the Fernie Hotel and Pub. (Soranne Floarea/ The Free Press)
Fernie Hotel celebrates the land down under

Sausages sizzled and Vegemite was spread as The Fernie Hotel celebrated Australia Day on Jan. 26.

Teck today announced the development of a new centralized office building in Sparwood, B.C. File photo
What’s in a brand? Sparwood logo turns 10

The five-point star and branding has adorned the district’s properties since 2011

Freshies barista, Craig Stoner at the new cafe location. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)
Freshies settles into new space

The new locatiom on 2nd Ave gives the popular cafe more space

Castlegar Sculpturewalk 2020 – 10 Year Anniversary Sand Sculpture. (Submitted/CBT)
CBT arts and culture grant program now accepting applications

Apply through the Kootenay Columbia Cultural Alliance

Branden Macnaughton, Lane Ogden, Kourtney Holberton, and Kally Campbell skate along Sparwood’s new skating trail. (Soranne Floarea/ The Free Press)
Lace up those skates: District of Sparwood opens public skating trail

The 400 metre long loop is located next to the Recreation and Leisure Centre

Dr. Penny Ballem, a former deputy health minister, discusses her role in leading B.C.’s COVID-19 vaccination program, at the B.C. legislature, Jan. 22, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C. holds steady with 407 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday

14 deaths, no new outbreaks in the health care system

Adam Dergazarian, bottom center, pays his respect for Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, in front of a mural painted by artist Louie Sloe Palsino, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Bryant’s presence remains strong a year after his death

Tuesday marks the grim anniversary of the crash that took their lives

Surrey RCMP are investigating after a pedestrian was struck and killed at 183 Street and Highway 10 Friday night. (File photo)
Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

The Brucejack mine is 65 km north of Stewart in northwestern B.C. (Pretivm Photo)
B.C. mine executives see bright gleam in post-COVID future

Low carbon drives demand for copper, steelmaking coal

In this Dec. 18, 2020 photo, pipes to be used for the Keystone XL pipeline are stored in a field near Dorchester, Neb.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Chris Machian /Omaha World-Herald via AP
Canadians divided over Keystone pipeline, despite U.S. president’s permit pullback

Two-thirds of Canadians think Biden’s decision was a “bad thing” for Alberta

A woman wearing a protective face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 walks past a mural in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, Dec. 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel
5 big lessons experts say Canada should learn from COVID-19

‘What should be done to reduce the harms the next time a virus arises?’ Disease control experts answer

A Vancouver Police Department patch is seen on an officer’s uniform as she makes a phone call. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Vancouver man calls 911 to report his own stabbing, leading to arrest: police

Officers located the suspect a few blocks away. He was holding a bloody knife.

Vernon has agreed to a goose cull to control the over-populated invasive species making a muck of area parks and beaches. (Morning Star file photo)
Okanagan city pulls the trigger on goose cull

City asking neighbours to also help control over-population of geese

Most Read