Fighting for mandatory environmental impact assessments for all metallurgical coal mining projects

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If using metallurgical coal to make steel only resulted in exorbitant carbon emissions, that would be bad enough for the environment. But the damage from this heavy-polluting fossil fuel goes far beyond accelerating the climate emergency.

The cumulative impacts of the mining, transportation, and burning of metallurgical coal harm the environment and surrounding communities. These harms include violations of Treaty and Aboriginal rights, selenium contamination of fish and wildlife habitats, destruction of species at risk habitat, and poisoning of watersheds.

Proposed metallurgical coal mining projects of concern include the Elk Valley coal mine expansions in British Columbia and the Grassy Mountain and Tent Mountain coal mine projects, both located in Alberta.

Ecojustice – on behalf of First Nation communities, environmental organizations and local groups concerned about the impacts of metallurgical coal mining – has long called for all metallurgical coal mining projects to be subject to a federal environmental impact assessment.

Impact assessments are crucial because they identify and evaluate the environmental, health, social and economic effects of mining projects – including impacts on Indigenous rights and communities – and determine whether and how those impacts can be avoided or at least mitigated. To pass an assessment, a mining company must demonstrate that a project's benefits outweigh its potential harms and is in the public interest.

Thorough impact assessments are a critical tool to help governments understand the extent of damage a project, like a coal mine, could cause.

In June 2021, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Jonathan Wilkinson, announced his intention to designate all new metallurgical coal mining projects for a federal impact assessment (regardless of size), recognizing concern about the impacts of selenium pollution on fish and fish habitat.

This new coal policy is a step in the right direction, but it is not legally-binding. That’s why we are calling on the federal government to update its project list regulation under the Impact Assessment Act so that all new or expanded coal mines are automatically subject to a federal impact assessment, rather than leaving it up to the sitting minister to decide whether an assessment is necessary, as is currently the case.

A groundswell of opposition to the expansion of metallurgical coal mining in the eastern slopes of the Alberta Rocky Mountains has made clear the public’s desire for proper environmental oversight of coal mining at both the provincial and federal levels.

Key developments

Press release

Indigenous, landowners, environmental groups pleased to see Minister Wilkinson designate Tent Mountain for a federal impact assessment

CALGARY/TERRITORIES OF THE NIITSITAPI (BLACKFOOT) AND PEOPLES OF TREATY 7, INCLUDING THE SIKSIKA, PIIKUNI, KAINAI, TSUUT’INA AND STONEY NA...

June 28, 2021

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June 26, 2021

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Environment minister announces all metallurgical coal mines will undergo federal impact assessments, misses opportunity for regional assessment on Aboriginal and Treaty rights

Today, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Jonathan Wilkinson took an important step in addressing the impact of coal in Canada by an...

June 16, 2021

Press release

Tent Mountain coal mine: Niitsitapi Water Protectors, landowners group, environmental orgs urge Canada to designate project for assessment

CALGARY/TERRITORIES OF THE NIITSITAPI (BLACKFOOT) AND PEOPLES OF TREATY 7, INCLUDING THE SIKSIKA, PIIKUNI, KAINAI, TSUUT’INA AND STONEY NA...

April 6, 2021

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