Environment minister restores federal assessment of Alberta coal mine

Federal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson has reinstated his decision to subject a thermal coal mine expansion in Alberta to a federal review.

Wilkinson said in July 2020 that Coalspur’s Vista project near Hinton would go before a joint federal-provincial environmental review. But the Federal Court ordered that he review his decision, concluding it was made without consulting one of the First Nations that support the coal mine.

Wilkinson announced earlier this week that he conducted that review and will stick with his initial ruling.

He says Ottawa’s involvement is justified by the size of the planned expansion and its potential threats to areas of federal jurisdiction such as waterways and species at risk.

Wilkinson also says the expansion would affect the treaty rights of other First Nations who oppose the project.

If Coalspur’s plans proceed, Vista would become Canada’s largest thermal coal mine. 

The existing Vista mine began shipping coal for export in May 2019 and the company is now looking to double, or possibly even triple, its output.

Unlike some other proposed coal projects in Alberta, the Vista mine produces thermal coal, which is burned to generate electricity. Most of it is sold overseas.

Meanwhile, both Alberta and Canadian governments have committed to stop burning coal to generate electricity by 2030.

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