July 28th, 2020
Letter to Minister Wilkinson on subjecting or exempting the Vista coal mine expansion project from a federal environmental assessment
July 24, 2020
Dear Minister Wilkinson,
We are writing to you today to raise the issue of the expansion project of the Vista coal mine in Alberta. Thanks to pressure from environmental groups, you are currently reconsidering whether or not to submit the expansion to a federal environmental impact assessment. There should be no question that this project should, at the very least, be submitted to the federal assessment. Furthermore, it concerns us that you ever believed that such an evaluation was not necessary.
Your government made the decision to forfeit the environmental impact assessment for the first phase of the coal mine and had decided against the assessment for the expansion project. This was a mistake for many reasons. The proposed expansion would more than double the mine’s coal production each year. That means a production of up to 15 megatons of coal per year. As you are likely aware, burning up to 15 megatons of coal each year would severely increase greenhouse gas emissions.
In addition, with regards to this particular project, the Vista coal mine initially needed a federal assessment, but were able to avoid it only after adjusting their estimate of the project area partway through the process. It is also important to note that they exceed the production capacity criteria by a factor of more than seven. Given these circumstances, as Minister, you have a responsibility to submit this project to the federal environmental impact assessment.
Beyond the obvious environmental impact, a federal assessment is important as it would allow public consultation on issues that a provincial assessment does not allow, including:
- An assessment impact on Aboriginal rights and title;
- An assessment impact of the downstream emissions from increased mining;
- An assessment impact on wildlife, etc.
Beyond the importance of the assessment itself, we would like to highlight some issues with your government allowing coal mining projects to move forward.
First of all, your government claims to have a strong commitment to the climate change targets set out in the Paris Agreement. Yet, allowing a project to proceed that would be responsible for an additional 33 megatons of CO2 greenhouse gas emissions would set us back considerably from those targets. It is difficult to claim to have a strong commitment to fighting climate change when you sit back and allow these polluting projects to move forward, especially without a federal environmental assessment impact.
Moreover, the project itself and its expansion do not sit well with your own government’s commitment to phasing out coal. In 2018, Canada announced regulations to phase out traditional coal-fired electricity by 2030. While the coal that is mined from this project is designed to be exported, it would be hypocritical to not take into account emissions that would be produced by the use of this resource. As a so-called “climate change leader”, should Canada not be leading the way by saying no to the expansion and creation of new coal mines, and instead be encouraging industry to invest in green energy projects, both at home and abroad?
The NDP believes that your government should be looking to invest time and money in a green recovery. We therefore do not believe that the expansion of the Vista coal mine should be allowed to move forward. And while we know that your government does not have the same commitment to fighting climate change as we do, we believe that at the very least, all new coal mine proposals or coal mine expansions should be subject to review under the Canadian Impact Assessment Act.
Should you wish to discuss this any further, we are happy to make ourselves available.
Member of Parliament for Victoria
NDP Critic for Environment and Climate Change
Member of Parliament for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie
NDP Deputy Leader and Deputy Critic for Environment and Climate Change
Member of Parliament for Edmonton Strathcona