Local Member of Parliament, Gerald Soroka, said the federal government is overstepping their bounds when it comes to their recent public policy statement on new thermal coal mining and expansion projects.
The policy states that thermal coal projects are likely to cause unacceptable environmental effects within federal jurisdiction and are not aligned with Canada’s domestic and international climate change commitments. Jonathan Wilkinson, Canada’s minister of environment and climate change, added that this includes Coalspur Mine Operations’s (Bighorn Mining) two Vista Coal projects near Hinton.
While Wilkinson is entitled to his own opinion as minister, the projects still have to go through the Environmental Assessment appeal and aren’t completely denied yet, Soroka stated.
“It’s not dead in the water by any means, it’s still going through the normal process it always would. It’s just that the Minister went to make that announcement and I feel they’re stepping on provincial jurisdiction,” said Soroka.
Since Parliament has officially shut down for the summer season, Soroka’s only option to bring up the issue is to write a letter to the Minister at this time, he noted. The letter to the Minister wouldn’t be beneficial right now as the mine projects are under the bureaucracy of the environmental assessment, he added.
These projects fall under provincial jurisdiction and should be managed by the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER), according to Soroka, an issue that goes back to last year when Wilkinson reversed his decision not to designate the Phase II expansion for a federal environmental assessment.
“The [AER] should be approving or not approving and making recommendations, because the size of the scope doesn’t warrant a federal assessment,” Soroka said.
Under the federal Impact Assessment Act, Minister Wilkinson has the discretionary authority to designate projects to require a Federal environmental assessment even if they don’t meet the legislative thresholds that determine if an assessment is required.
Those thresholds include increasing the mining area by more than 50 per cent, which the Impact Assessment Agency and the Minister agreed the Phase II expansion doesn’t.
Wilkinson reversed his decision in summer 2020 after a letter from various groups called for a federal assessment of the expansion plans.
Coalspur then applied for a judicial review of the assessment in federal court and a hearing was held on May 19 and 20, 2021. No decision has been posted online.
If the projects are approved through the environmental impact assessment, the projects can still be delayed through regulations, Soroka added. “There is that term, death by delay,” he said.
Yellowhead County will also be writing letters to the local MP, MLA, and directly to the Prime Minister to voice concerns on behalf of its residents.
The fact that Wilkinson directly named Coalspur and its Vista projects worries Yellowhead County Mayor Jim Eglinski. He mentioned that the liberal government is fixated on being a leading example in environmental standards but won’t look at the socio-economic impacts to the area, especially Hinton.
“What’s very annoying to me and I brought this up with council on Tuesday, was the fact that all of the plans that the mine intended on doing were presented right up front when they made their applications to the federal government and to the province to go ahead with this operation,” said Eglinski.
Phase one of the Vista mine has enough coal for many years to come, but any restrictions could have an impact on the short, medium, and long term plans of the Vista Mine, stated Marcel Michaels, Mayor of Hinton.
“I also would like a better jobs plan for rural communities such as Hinton. How will the federal government help bring replacement jobs to this area?,” he questioned.
He said the Town will continue to lobby the federal government to build a better plan that includes Canadian thermal coal. He pointed out that Canada produces approximately one per cent of the world’s coal, and therefore it is more of a global concern. Beyond the G7, there are many countries that have not agreed to eliminate thermal coal, he added.
There was no response on this topic prior to the Hinton Voice deadline from MLA Martin Long’s office.
Masha Scheele, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hinton Voice