The Cape Breton Regional Municipality councillor that represents the district where the Donkin coal mine is located says environmental concerns about the mine are overblown.

"The environmental groups are simply looking to cherry-pick little issues that they can get their single attention on as opposed to the national one. You can understand where they're going. It's only to justify their existence," he said Friday on CBC's Maritime Noon.

Saccary said environmentalists should be more concerned about bigger issues, like the emissions generated by the airline industry.

"Three huge jets in three single trips, what does that equate to?" said Saccary.

The Donkin mine project has come under fire from environmentalists.

The provincial government estimates Donkin coal extraction will release the equivalent of one megatonne of greenhouse gases per year, based on an environment assessment of the project. One megatonne is equal to the total emissions of all the cars in a city the size of London, Ont., or Quebec City.

The mine's current manager, Kameron Coal, expects to cut the first piece of coal in late spring. Kameron Coal is a subsidiary of U.S. coal company Cline Group, which bought the mine from Australian company Xstrata Coal last year.

Coal mining industry 'stopped a long time ago'

Around 30 people are working at the site now and the company will hire a total of 120 people in several rounds over the next year.

There is hope the project will mean work for former coal miners, but Neal Livingston, the co-chair of the Margaree Environmental Association, does not think that's realistic.

"I think most of the people who were underground coal miners in Cape Breton are way above retirement age. This is an industry that stopped a long time ago," he told Maritime Noon.

Livingston said those jobs could easily be replaced by focusing on the green economy.

But Saccary said the mine will create work and the job numbers are even understated.

"For every single job, it creates three more," he said, referring to spinoff work he said would be created as a result of the mine's activity.

The province has a goal of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 to a level that is 10 per cent less than 1990 emissions.

Provincial officials have said Nova Scotia is on track to exceed its greenhouse gas targets by 2020, and the province will still remain within the threshold if the mine goes into production.

Clarifications

  • An earlier version of this story said coal extraction would release methane. In fact, it would release a combination of greenhouse gases. This story has been updated to include the source of the province's estimate.
    Jan 09, 2016 12:44 PM AT