Alberta Politics
Part of the existing Vista thermal coal mine near Hinton, Alberta (Photo: Bighorn Mining).

Ottawa taps the brakes on huge coal mine expansion near Jasper National Park; Alberta’s UCP stays mum for now

Posted on August 02, 2020, 2:26 am
8 mins

Federal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson tapped the brakes Thursday on the Vista coal mine expansion near Hinton with an announcement Ottawa will take a look at the environmental impact of the project after all.

The same afternoon, the Alberta Government led by Premier Jason Kenney, which has never met a fossil fuel extraction plan it didn’t love, was apparently fully engaged bragging about all the bills its MLAs had passed before they got ready to head back to their ridings for their August break.

Federal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson (Photo: Government of Canada).

The latter fact may account for why there was no screech, let alone a crash and tinkle of broken glass, when the federal brake lights momentarily lit up. Among the eight press releases published by the provincial government that day, and five additional ones on Friday, not one mentioned Mr. Wilkinson’s decision.

Other than some pro forma carping by an MLA on social media, there was almost no provincial response to the Trudeau Government decision to shelve its December 2019 plan to leave it up to the industry-funded Alberta Energy Regulator to decide if the huge coal mine expansion just east of the Jasper National Park gate should be approved.

That silence will likely be remedied later this week. In the meantime, enjoy a peaceful civic holiday weekend!

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

In a report in the Globe and Mail, Mr. Wilkinson hinted he had concluded the mine’s owner — a subsidiary of Plano, Tex.-based Cline Group Inc. — may have been trying to pull a fast one by breaking its application to double or triple the output of the thermal coal mine into two parts. “That would lead me to be concerned that this is, perhaps, an exercise in project splitting for the purpose of avoiding a federal assessment,” the minister said.

So, according to the Globe, Mr. Wilkinson explained that Ottawa’s initial determination that no federal review would be needed was based on the first application alone, but with a second one submitted more recently its assessment had changed.

“When we saw the second project come forward, we looked at the two — as we should in the context of the overall increase in the production of coal and the environmental impact — and made the determination that we really should be thinking about the two as a single project,” he told the Globe’s reporter.

But it’s hard to believe that Ottawa didn’t also consider the fact any decision by the UCP government about a major fossil fuel development, no matter how severe the impact, has to be considered a rubber stamp.

Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage recently described Alberta’s process as “modern oversight” that will “attract new investment for an important industry and protect jobs for Albertans.”

Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

The federal Liberals, of course, recognize that the next national election won’t just be fought in Alberta. No doubt the appointment of a vociferous climate-change doubter to head the Alberta Energy Regulator’s science and innovation division didn’t help either.

Environmental and First Nations leaders had pressed Ottawa to conduct a meaningful review. According to the Globe’s account, unfortunately parked behind the newspaper’s paywall, a group of 47 environmental, Indigenous, health and faith-based organizations wrote Mr. Wilkinson urging him to reverse his earlier decision to leave the approval to Alberta.

Mr. Wilkinson’s formal response cited “the potential for the projects to cause adverse effects within federal jurisdiction, adverse direct or incidental effects, public concern related to these effects, as well as adverse impacts on Aboriginal and Treaty rights.”

The review will be watched closely, since it will be an early test of Ottawa’s new Impact Assessment Agency of Canada, created under Bill C-69. That legislation, which prompted strong opposition in Alberta, is subject of a challenge by the provincial government, which argues it infringes on provincial jurisdiction.

What is the legal matter that Vivian Krause needs to attend to?

A GoFundMe page posted three days ago by controversial Vancouver-based researcher Vivian Krause seeks contributions to fund counsel in what she refers to as “a legal matter.”

Controversial researcher Vivian Krause (Photo: GoFundMe).

Ms. Krause is well known for her claims that activist groups opposing the construction of Alberta pipelines have been backed by foreign funds.

While her views have been dismissed as conspiracy theories by many opponents, they have heavily influenced the Kenney Government and were used as justification for the province’s so-called “public inquiry into anti-Alberta energy campaigns.”

Indeed, energy journalist Markham Hislop has written, “there is … no evidence the Kenney Government looked to any sources other than Krause before declaring, inaccurately, that tens of thousands of jobs were destroyed by activists like Tzeporah Berman.”

Ms. Krause’s claims are contentious enough that her prominent role in the inquiry rated its own section on its FAQ page. “The Inquiry is examining and exploring a variety of sources to gather relevant information and evidence, and the prior work of Vivian Krause is one such potential source,” it says. “Importantly, the Commissioner is approaching the Inquiry Mandate with an independent and open mind and will subject all available information and evidence gathered to objective and impartial scrutiny.”

Ms. Krause keen to get started on a new project, she wrote on her GoFundMe page, but “at the moment, I have a legal matter to attend to.”

The legal matter is not specifically related to her most recent project, she continued, “but it is along the lines of all the work that I have been doing.”

Ms. Krause’s pitch for funds also said: “I am not able share too many details, but within a month or so, I will be able to let you know what this is about.”

9 Comments to: Ottawa taps the brakes on huge coal mine expansion near Jasper National Park; Alberta’s UCP stays mum for now

  1. Thomas Rhodes

    August 2nd, 2020

    Good. I like the Federal Enviroment Minister more already. He’s doing what he’s supposed to, unlike our
    “so called” enviroment minister Jason Nixon. Imagine selling off native grass land to grow potatoes. Also I think our
    “so called” enviroment minister had a large part in scuttling the Teck Frontier mine project with his bellicose and belligerent posturing and bravado. It’s one thing to have “another ” oilsands mine in oilsands country… but on the eastern slopes…

  2. Hermione Hurtubise

    August 2nd, 2020

    Metallurgical coal is worth digging up, for steel making. Thermal coal has no future.

    Coal is mother nature’s version of carbon sequestration. Leave it in the ground.

  3. tom in ontario

    August 2nd, 2020

    To expand on the reporting skills of Ms. Krause, Markham Hislop writes, “Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has inaccurately called Krause a journalist, presumably based on her op-eds being published in Postmedia newspapers which hardly qualifies her as a journalist. The core of the journalist process is on-the-record interviews and verification of facts. She undertakes none of the former and little of the latter, essentially invalidating any claim to be a reporter.”

    Although she begs for funds, her GoFundMe plea does not disclose what the money will be used for. Included however is a list of top donors. Premier Kenney is not named but Quick Dick McDick happily threw in 500.

  4. Abs

    August 2nd, 2020

    They paved paradise and put up a giant coal mine or two. I mean, why shouldn’t Alberta exploit its natural resources the same way it exploits its citizens: ruthlessly and without regard for the future? Coal mines, baby, not provincial parks and crown land.

  5. Bill Malcolm

    August 2nd, 2020

    ‘”That would lead me to be concerned that this is, perhaps, an exercise in project splitting for the purpose of avoiding a federal assessment,” the minister said.’ Gosh, Shirley Knot. Fine upstanding foreign corporate citizens wouldn’t do that, would they? No matter, if Cline doesn’t make the profit it expects, then it’ll be time to assert the ISDS provisions of the new NAFTA pact. You know, where some lashed-together tribunal can make decisions that even the Supreme Court cannot overrule. Because neoliberalism overrides national interest for the greater good of us all. Ahem. And hey, Alberta has “modern oversight”. As in, none whatsoever in the case of environmental monitoring oversight up Tarsands Way.

    We have some experience with this sort of international environmental sham in Nova Scotia, back in the old stomping grounds of my youth.

    And hey, the Federal Court agreed that community values don’t matter in the raping of the earth for resources, so didn’t recommend the Feds appeal the tribunal ruling. Mere people have no say in opposing the ruination of their locale when Mr Big Bucks comes to town. Remember Freeland in tears when Belgium as a country refused to sign onto the ratification of the Canada-EU trade deal? I forget how she got ’em to sign in the end. Trudeau loves his ISDS free trade treaty provisions, even argued for them in the new NAFTA when Trump wanted to drop them. We have such far-sighted leaders, eh? Environment? Wassat?

  6. Mike in Edmonton

    August 2nd, 2020

    Well, they sure can’t ignore this! The Kenney Klowns will have to come out swinging. Furriners whut doan like bitchimen are beneath their notice (now that they’ve mostly left town anyway). Want to bet they’re networking with the War Room staffers on how to spin this one?

  7. Dave

    August 3rd, 2020

    Yes, this coal mine issue will probably make the UCP grumpy and put a dampwr on their self congratulatory long weekend. However, I suspect they will not be as vocal in attacking the Feds as they once were.

    For one, Kenney has just succeeded in one thing no Alberta Premier in living memory has. Apparently, he has now made Alberta a net recipient of Federal money. Kind of clever in a diabolical way – if you can’t change the equalization formula (last set out by the Harper government of which Kenney was a part of) – instead reduce Alberta to being destitute. Thus, while Kenney can still grumble some, he must now be careful not to over do it and bite the hand that feeds us.

    At least Kenney hasn’t been reduced to Go Fund Me campaigns to pay his legal bills for ill considered actions and statements. No, for the next few years at least, the people of Alberta will still have to cover that, whether they like it or not. Oh well, I guess just add it to his record deficits.

  8. Hoaxy

    August 3rd, 2020

    The feds should back off. They cant drive the car, use the steel, eat off the plastic and then sabotage the industry. They can stop flying planes, stop using electricity etc. Coal is fine. Coal fired electricity is fine IF you have filters on the stacks.
    The world would be a better place simply by filtering out the particulate which would deal with mercury etc.. Plants love CO2 thats fine. So, if the Feds had any mind they would ask China to clean up their act and put filters on coal plants not stop Canada from producing coal.

  9. Guest99

    August 3rd, 2020

    Or was this the intention all along….create a situation where the feds can’t turn a blind eye and add fuel to the western alienation fire when JT’s liberals hobble Alberta’s economy yet again. I can’t see a lot of structure to what kenny is doing other than continually trying to cast everyone as the villain….and even this strategy doesn’t seem to have a specific purpose.


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