Letter to the editor: Weighing the pros and cons of Teck expansion in Elk Valley

Tracy Flynn – Fairmont Hot Springs

Teck’s proposed coal mine expansion in the Elk Valley is a controversial issue in the East Kootenays. The Province of BC is conducting an Environmental Assessment yet many say a federal review under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (FR) should also be undertaken.

Those opposed to the expansion cite water pollution, threats to Big horn sheep and other environmental concerns; those in favour cite jobs and portray Teck as being environmentally responsible.

Does metallurgical (used for making steel) coal have a similar environmental impact as thermal coal? My research showed that only a small amount of the carbon in metallurgical coal – 1% – goes into making steel, the rest goes into the atmosphere we all share. We are a global community and the CO2 and methane emissions from the production, transport and use of coal affect us all. Yes, we all need steel but can we pursue other ways of making it? There are other ways. Coal is just the cheapest way at this point (not accounting for environmental and health costs).

Is the Teck Mine affecting fish downstream of the mine? There has been a collapse in westslope cutthroat trout reported in the upper Fording river. Teck attributes the collapse to climate change, predation, or natural causes. Many biologists say it is more likely pollution from the mines – selenium (known to cause reproductive failure and deformities in fish), nitrates from leftover explosives, or dissolved calcite (which can coat the bottoms of streams with a hard concrete like surface). Yes, Teck is investing in water treatment plants to decrease selenium but the treatment is small scale and requires the continuous investment of time and staff in the process. Will Teck continue to invest $ into the process even when the coal making revenue ends? A water treatment plant only treats a small portion of the contaminated water for a finite time period. Is there a long-term plan for stopping water pollution at the source?

Are Bighorn sheep affected by the mine and its proposed expansion? Big horn sheep purportedly hang out at the mine sites now, but does that mean their winter habitat isn’t being threatened by this expansion? Sheep need certain aspects and slopes in the winter in order to survive – south facing, high elevation ridges where the snow is blown off and the feed isn’t buried, and where “quick escape” terrain is available. Mine sites flatten mountains and even when reclaimed, they don’t provide the same snow reduced habitat.

So, it seems we are again asked to choose between the environment and the economy. I agree that economy and jobs are important. Those employed by Teck are naturally concerned about their future. Is expansion, with environmental consequences, the answer or is it time to support diversifying the employment opportunities in the Elk Valley and provide retraining and support to those who may be affected?

Equally concerning is that this expansion, if approved, will impede Canada’s ability to meet its climate targets. As such this project should be subjected to a more rigorous assessment through the FR process. We need to be thinking about the long-term impacts of mining, shipping and using metallurgical coal in steel making.

To my knowledge there has never been a FR of any of the coal mines in the Elk Valley and the long-term cumulative impacts of this expansion need to be considered. You can comment on the need for a federal review here: https://iaac-aeic.gc.ca/050/evaluations/proj/80702/participation

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