Minister's Response

Date: September 29, 2021

Physical Activities:

Coalspur Mines (Operations) Ltd. proposes the Vista Coal Underground Mine project and the Vista Coal Mine Phase II Expansion project (the physical activities), to expand the existing Vista Coal Mine Phase I Project; an open-pit thermal coal mine. The physical activities would be located approximately 10 kilometres east of Hinton, Alberta.

Information considered:

Pursuant to section 9 of the Impact Assessment Act (IAA), I, Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada (the Minister) considered the potential for the physical activities to cause adverse effects within federal jurisdiction and adverse direct or incidental effects, public concern related to these effects, as well as the adverse impacts that the physical activities may have on the rights of Indigenous peoples of Canada- including Indigenous women- recognized and affirmed by s 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.

In forming my opinion, I took into account the analyses prepared by the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada in 20192020, and 2021, the information collected during the now-terminated planning phase carried out under the IAA following the 2020 designation Order, the Government of Canada's Policy Statement on future thermal coal mining projects and project expansions, my previous written notice sent to Coalspur Mines (Operations) Ltd on June 11, 2021 under section 17 of the IAA, and international and domestic commitments regarding climate change and the transition away from coal-fired electricity.

Decision:

On July 19, 2021, the Federal Court granted an Application for Judicial Review filed by Ermineskin Cree Nation, that set aside the Designation Order I made on July 30, 2020 designating the physical activities. The Court remanded the matter for reconsideration.

Following the reconsideration process, I have determined that the physical activities warrant designation.

Reasons

I am of the opinion that the physical activities warrant designation for the following reasons:

  • Considered together, the area of mining operations for the physical activities would be just below the 50 percent threshold, and over 50 kilotonnes per day of raw coal (close to 18 kilotonnes of coal prepared for market), well above the total coal production capacity threshold of 5,000 tonnes per day described in Item 19(a) of the Physical Activities Regulations;
  • The physical activities may cause direct and cumulative effects to areas of federal jurisdiction and direct or incidental effects, including:
    • The potential for the physical activities to result in adverse effects to fish and fish habitat, including critical habitat for the endangered Rainbow Trout (Athabasca population) that was identified in September 2020 both within the proposed footprint of the Vista Mine Phase II Expansion and downstream from both physical activities. Threatened Bull Trout and their habitat may also be affected.
    • The physical activities may also result in the deposit of deleterious substances into fish habitat, including selenium and calcite; it is unknown at this time if mitigation measures will be sufficient prevention.
    • The potential for direct and cumulative effects to the environment (through direct and cumulative loss of land; air, water, plant, and animal contamination) that would adversely impact Indigenous peoples of Canada, including their meaningful and accessible practice and intergenerational transmission of cultural heritage and language, current use of lands and resources for traditional purposes including fishing, hunting, medicinal harvesting, and ceremony, and disruption to sites of physical heritage or significance and their use.
    • The potential for changes to Indigenous peoples' health and social well-being through effects to water and air that could adversely affect food security or safety, including mental well-being.
  • The physical activities may adversely impact the exercise of Aboriginal or Treaty rights of some Indigenous groups. In particular, as articulated by a number of Indigenous groups, these concerns relate to the potential for:
    • changes in health, social and economic conditions related to loss of access and changes to the baseline environmental conditions;
    • impacts on cultural well-being linked to loss of access to sites of cultural and ceremonial significance;
    • cumulative impacts of increased industrial activity on resources and ecosystems critical for the practice of rights-related activities;
    • limitations on current use of traditional lands and resources and the ability to practice rights-related activities through lack of confidence in resource safety, and direct removal, loss of access or avoidance due to sensory disturbance to areas or routes of importance;
    • concerns related to limitations in access to and protection of historical and archeological sites;
    • impacts on water quality and quantity that would impair the ability to safely use as a source of drinking water and harvest of plants and animals that rely on water in the area; and,
    • impacts related to eventual reclamation and restoration activities that would impair the ability of future generations to continue practicing rights.
  • The concerns expressed by the requesters, Indigenous groups, federal authorities, and members of the public that, directly and cumulatively, the physical activities may cause potential adverse effects within federal jurisdiction (such as effects to fish and fish habitat, and Indigenous peoples).

 

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