Saying no to a coal comeback: The Vista coal mine

Coalspur Mines (Operations) Ltd. v. The Minister of Environment and Climate Change et. al.
Coal mining in an open pit by Mark Agnor via Shutterstock
Program area – Climate Status: In progress
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Coal projects – such as the proposed Vista coal mine expansion – threaten the climate, human health, biodiversity, and the air, land, and water.

Thermal coal is the world’s dirtiest fossil fuel, toxic to human health and disastrous for the climate. In fact, burning coal is responsible for a nearly half of carbon emissions around the world.

That’s why Ecojustice stepped up to represent clients concerned about the Vista coal mine expansion.

If built, the proposed expansion could result in the extraction of up to 15 MT of coal per year. When shipped and consumed abroad, burning this much coal could lead to 33 MT of carbon. By comparison, the largest single source of carbon in Canada is currently another coal plant in Alberta that emits 12.7 MT of carbon dioxide a year – just over one-third of Vista’s total projected emissions.

On behalf of Keepers of the Water, Keepers of the Athabasca, and the West Athabasca Bioregional Society, Ecojustice wrote to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change to demand he designate the Vista coal mine expansion for a federal impact assessment. Impact assessments are critical tools that help the government understand and limit harms to environment, the climate, human health, and Indigenous Peoples.

With the help of 46 other environmental, Indigenous, health, civil society, and faith organizations, and tens of thousands of Canadians, Ecojustice and its clients scored an important victory when the Minister agreed to designate the Vista expansion for an assessment.

Read Ecojustice’s reaction statement here.

But Coalspur would not give up without a fight. The company filed for a judicial review of the government’s decision and named our clients as a respondent. On their behalf, Ecojustice participated in the judicial review to ensure that the Minister’s decision would be upheld and Canada’s environmental assessment laws would stand.

In July 2021, a decision in another judicial review – to which Ecojustice was not a party – overturned the Minister’s order to designate the Vista mine expansion for a federal impact assessment. Coalspur was then allowed to proceed without an assessment of all the environmental harm the expansion will bring.

Now, the Minister must decide whether to designate the Vista mine expansion for federal impact assessment once again. In the meantime, Ecojustice continues to call on the government to build on its climate leadership by ensuring that all of the mine’s impacts are considered in the impact assessment.

Coalspur’s Vista coal mine is a massive thermal coal mine located near Hinton, Alta. If built, a proposed expansion of the mine could almost triple its current capacity, leading to an increase in pollution, infringement on the rights of Indigenous Peoples, and destruction of the habitat of an endangered species of trout.

What we want to see

Simply put, the climate can’t afford a coal comeback.

Burning coal is responsible for nearly half the world’s carbon emissions. That means, if we are going to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 – the minimum required for maintaining a livable planet – we cannot continue to mine and burn thermal coal in Canada or abroad.

Key developments

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