Canada agrees federal impact assessment necessary for coal mine expansion near Hinton, Alberta

July 31, 2020

Calgary, AB – CPAWS applauds the decision by the federal Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, Jonathan Wilkinson, to approve the request for a federal impact assessment for a proposed thermal coal mine expansion near Hinton, Alberta. The decision shows Minister Wilkinson understands the serious need to assess adverse environmental impacts that result from outdated thermal coal mining.

The Vista Coal Mine Expansion Project would cause adverse impacts on species at risk, fish and fish habitat, and on Indigenous peoples. The Minister cites that these impacts will not be suitably addressed by the project design or standard mitigation standards alone, and a federal impact assessment is necessary. 

“With the ongoing weakening of provincial regulatory safeguards for the environment in Alberta, we are happy to see movement from the federal government to recognize these issues,” says Gillian Chow-Fraser, Boreal Program Manager. 

CPAWS Northern and Southern Alberta Chapters communicated their concerns about the mine expansion to the Minister, focusing on the potential impacts on Endangered Athabasca Rainbow Trout and the destruction of their critical habitat. “We were surprised to find the proposed project area falls squarely within critical habitat for the Athabasca Rainbow Trout” remarks Katie Morrison, Conservation Director. The mining company stated they anticipate direct impacts on their habitat. Any habitat destruction which would strongly threaten their recovery. “We think that this is completely unacceptable,” says Morrison.  

Multiple requests have previously been made to the Minister to consider the project for designation under the Impact Assessment Act (2020), following a decision last December, 2019, when he felt an impact assessment was not necessary at the time. New information on the total coal production capacity of the expansion, as well as concerns from impacted Indigenous communities regarding consultation, and cumulative environmental impacts, has since compelled the Minister to designate the project.  

CPAWS Northern and Southern Alberta will continue to monitor the progress of the environmental impact assessment and ensure these outstanding issues are addressed. We encourage the Minister to consider the negative impacts to federally-listed species at risk, like native trout, in any future decisions on coal mines approvals in Alberta. We hope this same rigour is applied to assessment of the upcoming Grassy Mountain Coal Project in southwest Alberta.

Read the Minister’s response here:

Read our joint letter here: “47 groups urge Minister Wilkinson to act on Vista thermal coal mine”