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Ottawa adds another Alberta coal project to federal environmental assessment list

Tent Mountain project flagged because it could release the contaminant selenium
Environment and Climate Change Minister Jonathan Wilkinson responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Environmental groups and First Nations say they are pleased the federal government is adding another proposed coal mine in Alberta’s Rocky Mountains to the list of projects it will review.

“This decision should be applauded by all who believe environmental assessments should be inclusive, participatory processes,” said a statement from Ian Urquhart of the Alberta Wilderness Association.

On Monday, federal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said Montem Resources’ proposed Tent Mountain project should be reviewed by the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada because it could release the contaminant selenium, an element commonly found in coal-bearing rock that is toxic to fish at high levels.

Wilkinson said he also considered public concern about the project as well as its potential impact on treaty rights.

Billy Wadsworth, director of government and industry relations for the Siksika First Nation near the proposed mine, said having Ottawa involved reflects his nation’s proper relationship with the Crown.

“Why is it that we would concede to dealing with the province when our original agreement was with the Crown?” he asked. “If we’re doing that, we run the risk of domestication of our treaties.”

He also welcomed the greater scope and opportunity for public involvement that a federal review brings.

The Kainai band has also long called for Canada to take a close look at open-pit coal mining in the Rockies.

“Kainai has requested federal intervention in this issue on multiple occasions,” says a letter from the band to Wilkinson, posted by the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada.

The Kainai wanted the minister to go further and order a regional assessment, which would consider the cumulative impacts of all Alberta’s proposed coal mines instead of a project-by-project assessment.

“Any pollution of (the Oldman River) creates a significant adverse effect on the health and safety of Kainai’s members,” the band wrote. “This is an impact on an area of federal jurisdiction that regulators cannot assess on a project-specific basis — it must be done regionally.”

Bobbi Lambright of the Livingstone Landowners Group wrote that a federal review will do a better job examining a mine’s potential impact on the headwaters of rivers that local people depend on.

“We are encouraged that Minister Wilkinson has recognized it requires a thorough, transparent and public federal assessment to examine its potential effects on water quality.”

Two weeks ago, Wilkinson promised any coal mine that had the potential to release selenium into the environment would face a federal review.

Montem CEO Peter Doyle has told an investor’s newsletter that the decision will likely delay Tent Mountain, but the company will keep moving forward with the proposed development.

—Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

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