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A large piece of mining equipment stands in the dark rock of a mine.

Coal mining in an open pit by Mark Agnor via Shutterstock

press release

Vista coal mine decision highlights Canada’s climate hypocrisy: Ecojustice

December 20, 2019

CALGARY – The federal government’s decision to allow a massive thermal coal project to go ahead without an environmental assessment highlights the rift between Canada’s “powering past coal” talk and its willingness to take action, Ecojustice says.

Minister of Environment and Climate Change Jonathan Wilkinson issued a statement earlier today, announcing he will not designate Coalspur’s planned expansion of the Vista coal mine, a thermal coal mine located near Hinton, Alta, for a federal environmental assessment.

If completed, the Vista expansion could potentially triple the mine’s maximum capacity to extract thermal coal, which will then be shipped overseas for consumption. When burned, this amount of coal would lead to up to 33 million tonnes of carbon emissions.

Despite the fact that thermal coal is widely regarded as the world’s dirtiest fossil fuel, Canada does not count pollution from burning coal overseas towards its national climate targets.

On behalf of the Keepers of the Water, Keepers of the Athabasca, and the West Athabasca Watershed Bioregional Society, Ecojustice previously sent a letter to the Minister, asking him to designate the Vista expansion for an environmental assessment.

Ecojustice lawyer Fraser Thomson issued the following statement in response to the minister’s decision:

“Canada has committed to fighting climate change and ending coal use at home. If we aren’t okay with burning coal in Canada, we shouldn’t feed coal consumption overseas.

“An assessment would have given decision-makers and the public a chance to better understand how this project would impact the climate, environment, and Indigenous rights before the government has to make a final decision on whether or not the expansion can go ahead. With or without an assessment, however, the government must not give the Vista coal project final approval.

“The reality is we don’t have time to be hypocritical, indecisive, or gradual when it comes to phasing out the world’s dirtiest fossil fuel. We are in a climate crisis. The science tells us that, globally, we must halve emissions by 2030. Extracting and burning more thermal coal, whether at home or abroad, is fundamentally incompatible with achieving that.”

Jesse Cardinal, a spokesperson for Keepers of the Water, said:

“In seeing how the expansion application has been handled so far by the provincial government, it would seem that we definitely need to have some federal oversight to ensure that the watersheds and all those who depend on the waters are going to be protected with an assurance that Treaty rights will not be breached in any way.”


  • Burning coal is responsible for a nearly half of carbon emissions around the world.
  • Coal also causes a range of health problems. Around the world, it’s responsible for more than 800,000 premature deaths a year.
  • If both phases of the Vista coal mine expansion go ahead, it could result in the extraction of up to 15 MT of coal per year. Burning this much coal overseas would produce 33 MT of carbon — the same amount of GHG emissions as driving more than 7,000,000 passenger vehicles for one year.
  • By comparison, the largest single source of carbon in Canada is currently the Sundance Thermal Electric Power Generating Plant, a coal plant in Alberta that emits 12.7 MT of CO2 a year. Emissions from the expanded Vista coal mine would be nearly three times this amount.


Ecojustice goes to court and uses the power of the law to defend nature, combat climate change, and fight for a healthy environment. Its strategic, innovative public interest lawsuits lead to legal precedents that deliver lasting solutions to Canada’s most urgent environmental problems. As Canada’s largest environmental law charity, Ecojustice operates offices in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa, and Halifax.