The federal and British Columbia governments have rejected a proposed open-pit coal mine over its environmental impacts.

The Sukunka open-pit coal mine near Tumbler Ridge, B.C., would have produced three million tons of coal per year to sell to steel manufacturers overseas, according to Glencore, the company behind the project. The federal government announced the rejection — based on B.C.’s environmental assessment process — on Dec. 21. 

“After careful deliberation, the Government of Canada has determined the significant adverse environmental effects of the proposed Sukunka Coal Mine Project … could not be mitigated,” reads the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada’s press release. “The project therefore cannot proceed.”

Those environmental effects include the proposed mine’s impact on species like caribou and grizzly bears and pollution of waters. The provincial government also cited the treaty rights of First Nations, including West Moberly First Nations, Saulteau First Nation and McLeod Lake Indian Band, as part of its reason to turn down the project. 

“We welcome the decision to refuse to issue a certificate for the Sukunka project,” Saulteau First Nations Chief Justin Napoleon told Canada’s National Observer in an emailed statement. “Everyone involved in the process knew this was the wrong project in the wrong location at the wrong time.”

Napoleon added that there can be “better balance in the region” in regard to mining and caribou recovery, clean water and treaty rights if project goals, timing and planning are co-ordinated.

“The scientific evidence gathered in assessing this project showed that its negative impacts were significant and could not be mitigated,” federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault said in the news release. “While encouraging sustainable resource development, Canadians expect the Government of Canada to take concrete actions to protect our country’s natural landscapes, its people and wildlife today and for the generations that follow.”

Sukunka coal mine would have overlapped with critical habitat for two threatened caribou populations: the woodland caribou and the Quintette herd of southern mountain caribou. 

“(It’s a) huge relief that this proposal is off the table,” said Jens Wieting, a senior forest and climate campaigner with Sierra Club BC. “But this misguided proposal also shows that the B.C. government has to expedite new legislation and law reforms to protect critical habitat, fully respect the rights of Indigenous Peoples and stop new fossil fuel projects that undermine climate action.”

In his mandate letter, B.C. Premier David Eby recently instructed Minister of Energy, Mines and Low-Carbon Innovation Josie Osborne to “advance the co-development of a modernized Mineral Tenure Act with First Nations and Indigenous organizations.” The law determines where mining can occur and gives “unique priority to mineral development over other land uses and rights,” according to BC Mining Law Reform.

“It’s really important that we get common-sense restrictions to make sure that companies don’t waste their time, energy and money on proposals in regions with such important conservation values,” Wieting said. The premier also urged Osborne to make respecting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, or UNDRIP, a priority when updating the  Mineral Tenure Act. Both of these efforts require “dramatic changes,” he said.

Although the assessment process didn’t zero in on greenhouse gas emissions, a life cycle analysis report commissioned by Glencore estimated the Sukunka mine would make up more than 15 per cent of all emissions produced by B.C coal mines.

Glencore Canada did not respond to a request for comment by deadline. The decision doesn’t prevent the company from submitting new project proposals.

By Natasha Bulowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Dec 22, 2022 at 18:30

This item reprinted with permission from   Canada's National Observer   Ottawa, Ontario

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