EDMONTON, AB - August 18 - A coalition of conservation groups announced today that they are challenging the federal governments failure to do an adequate environmental assessment of a massive coal mine development underway near Jasper National Park, Alberta. The groups argue that the Cheviot Coal Mine project has fundamentally changed since it was reviewed in 1997 and 2000, and that the environmental impact of the new, revised project must undergo a full environmental assessment. The 7,455-hectare open-pit mine is proposed for an area rated by the federal and provincial government as being nationally significant for its natural features.
Under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) is required to assess major project modifications before issuing any approval, said Sierra Club of Canadas Dianne Pachal. Its critical that DFO take a fresh look at the project because the nature of the project has fundamentally changed along with its environmental impacts.
On behalf of the Canadian Nature Federation (CNF), Pembina Institute for Appropriate Development, Jasper Environmental Association, Alberta Wilderness Association and the Sierra Club of Canada, Sierra Legal Defence Fund applied for a Judicial Review at the Federal Court late last week.
Although the initial construction of the mine is underway, no federal authorizations have been issued. The groups argue that, as a result, there is no mechanism to implement the mitigation measures the federal government assured Canadians would be in place to lessen the mines significant adverse impacts.
The original project would have processed the raw coal on site, however the new project includes expanding the mine area to take in the McLeod River valley and the construction of a high-speed, 24-hour haul road along its length to truck raw coal 22 km north to the Luscar Mine for processing. It is the very development the company had earlier ruled out due to social and environmental impacts and technological limitations.
The proposed high-speed road between Luscar and Cheviot would act as an impassable barrier for wildlife and would also impact fish and migratory bird habitat, said Glen Semenchuk from CNF. DFO has a legal duty to examine all of the modifications to the project, as well as a duty to ensure that mitigation measures are implemented.
Cardinal River Coals originally proposed the massive open-pit mine in 1996. A federal-provincial review panel subsequently examined the proposal and found that the project would negatively impact fish and fish habitat, migratory birds, the terrain, First Nations traditional uses of the area and those people seeking wildlands. The adverse impacts included two species designated as at risk by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) the grizzly bear and harlequin duck. Despite these impacts, the panel recommended that DFO approve the project, as they concluded the jobs and coal production would outweigh the environmental losses. However, the groups note that the new project, while requiring a larger area, will mine less than half the coal and employ only a quarter to half the people of the earlier project.
Previously, Sierra Legal successfully challenged the panels 1997 findings and DFOs approval on behalf of several citizens groups. In 2000, after further review, the joint review panel issued a second report, again recommending approval of the Cheviot project. However, that project was not developed and in August 2002 Cardinal River Coal launched the modified Cheviot project.
The case is expected to be heard in early 2005.
For further information please contact:
Canadian Nature Federation: Glen Semenchuk (780) 427-8124 or Julie Gelfand (613) 562-3447
Sierra Club of Canada: Dianne Pachal, Alberta Wilderness Director (403) 234-7368
Pembina Institute for Appropriate Development: Chris Severson-Baker, Env. Policy (403) 269-3344 ext. 101
Sierra Legal Defence Fund: Justin Duncan, Staff Lawyer (416) 368-7533 ext. 22
Jasper Environmental Association: Jill Seaton (780) 852-4152
Alberta Wilderness Association: (403) 283-2025