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Tent Mountain open-pit coal mine designated for federal impact assessment

The Tent Mountain open-pit coal mine will undergo a federal impact assessment, the federal environment minister ordered Monday.

The environment minister said the project has the potential to impact Indigenous people and fish habitats

Australia-based Montem Resources wants to mine for coal on Tent Mountain, just southwest of the Municipality of Crowsnest Pass. The federal environment minister has ordered the project will need to undergo an impact assessment. (Google Earth)

The proposed Tent Mountain open-pit coal mine will need to undergo a federal impact assessment before it can move ahead, the environment minister ordered Monday.

Federal Environment and Climate Change Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said the project could potentially impact cross-border environments in Alberta and British Columbia, Indigenous people, and fish and their habitats.

He said the decision took into account uncertainty relating to the effectiveness of proposed measures to avoid selenium and other dangerous substances from being deposited. 

He also said it may have negative effects on Indigenous rights recognized by the 1982 Constitution Act

"Both provincial regulatory regimes provide for a duty to consult with Indigenous peoples to consider potential effects on their rights and related concerns. However, in part because of the project's cross-border location, neither province requires consultation with all potentially affected groups on both sides of the border," the minister said in a statement. 

Wilkinson said he also took into account the analysis of the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada, which found the project didn't meet the threshold limits to trigger a federal review. 

Tent Mountain was the site of an open-pit mine, 16 kilometres west of Coleman in the Crowsnest Pass close to the Alberta-British Columbia border, which ceased operations in 1983.

Australian company Montem Resources hopes to resume operations and expand the original pits to allow daily production of 4,925 tonnes of raw coal, over a lifespan of 14 years. It would also include a factory to handle and process coal and a rail-loading facility. 

Last week, Montem responded to the rejection of the proposed Grassy Mountain coal project, from Australia-based Riverside Resources, calling the decision "unexpected."

Montem had said it believes "a number of factors differentiate" Tent Mountain from Grassy Mountain and the stated reason for its denial.

Wilkinson said earlier this month that the federal government will review any new coal project that could release selenium, which is toxic to fish and difficult to remove once it is introduced into groundwater.

David Khan, lawyer for Ecojustice, said on behalf of its clients, the environmental law charity welcomes the decision. 

"This process would allow the federal government to understand the full risks of the project and make an informed decision on whether it is in Canadians' best interests to let the Tent Mountain coal project proceed," he said in a news release. 

CBC has reached out to Montem for comment. 

Coal mining has been controversial in Alberta for more than a year, since the province's United Conservative government revoked a 1976 policy that protected the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains from open-pit coal mines.

Several First Nations, as well as municipalities and many Albertans, have asked the federal minister to step in.

Montem has said approximately 200 temporary jobs would be created during construction of the project with an additional 190 full time jobs once complete.

With files from the Canadian Press

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