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Federal environmental assessment launched for Teck’s Castle project

Canada’s Ministry of Environment has announced that it will launch an assessment of Teck’s Castle Mountain expansion, citing potential risks to the environment locally and into the United States.

The Ministry of Environment said the Castle Project would maintain a production capacity of 10 million tonnes per year, about 27,400 tonnes per day.

Currently, the exact life of the mine is unknown, but it is expected to last several decades.

Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Environment and Climate Change has considered the project for its potential to cause adverse impacts on the local environment, public concerns related to these effects, as well as adverse impacts on the Aboriginal and Treaty rights of Indigenous people.

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“The Project may cause adverse direct and cumulative effects to areas of federal jurisdiction, including to transboundary environments (in particular to fish and fish habitat including, water quality, species at risk, and Indigenous peoples) that may not be mitigated through project design or the application of standard mitigation measures,” said the ministry.

However, the Mining Association of Canada (MAC) feels the assessment is unnecessary, as it said the project has already been under a provincial review process.

“It seems clear that this decision was political in nature as there are many projects across the country with equal or more significant impacts that are not subject to the IAA,” said Pierre Gratton, President and CEO of MAC. “This is a case of the government succumbing to pressure from political interest groups while also placating the US government’s EPA and the state of Montana.”

The Ministry said the area of mining operations for the Castle project would fall under the 50% threshold, but the production of 27,400 tonnes per day is well above the coal production capacity threshold of 5,000 tonnes per day.

Gratton added that the assessment will cause unnecessary delays in the timeline at a time of economic uncertainty in Canada and around the world.

The federal assessment was announced after a request from a number of Elk Valley conservation groups, Indigenous groups, U.S Government agencies and members of the public.

“Castle would take down an entire mountain, could send dangerous water pollution hundreds of kilometres downstream and cut off travel routes for bears and other wildlife,” said Lars Sander-Green, of Wildsight, one of the organizations that requested the federal assessment. “With Teck’s five existing mines in the Elk Valley and decades of mining already permitted, we desperately need a real assessment of the overall impacts from so much mountain-top removal coal mining in one valley.”

Recently, the U.S. Geological Survey published a five-year study on selenium levels and its impact on the ecosystem in Lake Kookanusa and the Kootenay River. According to the study, high levels of selenium, a mineral that is found in rocks around coal deposits, can cause birth defects and reproduction failure in fish populations.

“Since 1984, selenium concentrations in the Elk River measured at a station 2.2 miles above its discharge into Lake Koocanusa at Highway 93 show a continuing increase as mines have expanded,” said the Study. “Selenium loads were estimated to increase by an average of 376 kilograms per year, or 19.7 percent per year, with planned mine expansions and new mines adding to that trend in the future.”

According to the Ministry’s report, the Castle Mountain Project is planned to start construction in 2023, with production to begin in 2026.

More: Pollution levels in Koocanusa more than twice the safe limit (Aug 18, 2020)

More: Elkford Opposed to Teck Coal Licence Applications (March 11, 2020)

More: Elk Valley Mayors React to Teck’s Castle Project (February 11, 2020)

More: Teck Proposing Extension of Fording River Operations (February 10, 2020)


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