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.
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!
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.”
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.”
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.”