Posted on January 13, 2010 (updated: January 13, 2010)

Cheviot Coal Mine Case Goes Back to Court

Five environmental organizations represented by Sierra Legal Defence Fund will be in Federal Court in Edmonton tomorrow challenging the federal approval of the controversial Cheviot coal mine adjacent to Jasper National Park. The Pembina Institute for Appropriate Development, Sierra Club of Canada, Nature Canada, Jasper Environmental Association and Alberta Wilderness Association argue the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has not properly assessed the mine, and has illegally permitted Cardinal River Coals Limited (CRC) of Teck Cominco and Fording Canadian Coal Trust to destroy migratory bird habitat.

The company wants to build the mine right up against Jasper National Park and in the middle of critical wildlife habitat used by many rare and threatened species, including grizzly bears. After putting the mine through a joint federal-provincial assessment process in the late 1990’s, CRC made major changes to the project including expanding the mine site and adding a new high speed haul road for shipping coal from the mine to CRC’s existing Luscar mine located to the north. The environmental impacts of the changes have never been assessed by either government. Moreover, the Cheviot project only provided about one quarter of the jobs originally promised.

“At stake is a wildland and biological hotspot determined to be nationally significant by the federal and provincial governments,” explained Dianne Pachal of the Sierra Club of Canada. “The review of the earlier project found there would be significant environmental harm. With the new mine, Environment Canada raised the matter that with far fewer jobs than originally stated, the previous review’s conclusion that environmental losses could be justified by mine jobs can now be called into question.”

“Our argument is that the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act requires the federal government to assess the impacts of the project that is actually being built, not an out of date plan that’s been changed,” said Sierra Legal lawyer Tim Howard. “The new haul road creates significant risks for Jasper National Park grizzly bears, migratory birds and the McLeod River – it is simply unacceptable to let those impacts pass without scrutiny.”

“As for migratory birds, the proponents had five years from the 1999 Federal Court decision in which to change the mine so it wouldn’t bury the stream valleys, but failed to do so,” added Julie Gelfand of Nature Canada.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has issued an approval under the Fisheries Act authorizing CRC to dig the first set of mine pits and dump millions of tonnes of rock waste into two creeks known to be migratory bird habitat. This violates the Migratory Birds Convention Act, which protects migratory bird habitat from harm.

“We maintain that the Department can’t breach sections of the Migratory Birds Convention Act and regulations by issuing a Fisheries Act permit,” said Sierra Legal lawyer Justin Duncan, co-counsel on the case. “The rules for protecting migratory birds and their habitat apply to everyone, including the DFO.”

Jasper National Park is recognized as a UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site. It is less than 3 kilometres west of the Cheviot mine. The case will be argued through Wednesday in Federal Court Trial Division at Scotia Place Tower 1, Suite 530 – 10060 Jasper Avenue in Edmonton.

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