Teck mine approval could require Alberta to hit net-zero emissions by 2050

The federal cabinet is considering approving the Teck Frontier oilsands mine, but with a condition — that Alberta legislate an emissions cap requiring the province to hit net-zero emissions by 2050 — two sources close to the prime minister tell CBC News.

Federal cabinet is to decide whether to approve project by the end of February

A haul truck carrying a full load drives away from a mining shovel at the Shell Albian Sands oilsands mine near Fort McMurray, Alta., Wednesday, July 9, 2008. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

The federal cabinet is considering approving the Teck Frontier oilsands mine, but with a condition — that Alberta legislate an emissions cap requiring the province to hit net-zero emissions by 2050 — two sources close to the prime minister tell CBC News.

The Liberal cabinet must make a decision on the massive new oilsands project by the end of February, while facing pressure from environmentalists on one side and the Alberta government on the other.

The sources, who spoke on condition they not be named, told CBC News the Teck decision is more difficult than the government's decision on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, but cabinet is leaning toward a plan outlined by former natural resources minister Amarjeet Sohi in the Edmonton Journal last week.

That plan would see cabinet approve the project with conditions attached. One of those conditions would require that Alberta Premier Jason Kenney's government pass a legislated emissions cap that would cut the province's carbon emissions to net-zero by 2050. That would be in line with the federal Liberals' own net-zero campaign promise.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has urged the federal government to swiftly approve the Teck oilsands mine. (Dave Chidley/The Canadian Press)

A source in the Kenney government who spoke with CBC News on background said the federal government has not yet floated the idea with Alberta — and the lack of detail from Ottawa is a source of frustration for the province, which is eager to find a path to yes. The idea is not something the province would reject outright, but any consideration would hinge on the details.

The Teck Resources oilsands mine would be vast: twice the size of the city of Vancouver. It would produce up to 260,000 barrels of bitumen a day. Its potential economic impact is big, too: 7,000 construction jobs, 2,500 operational ones and billions in tax revenue — $12 billion for the feds and $55 billion for Alberta over its expected 40-year lifespan.

The company has secured Indigenous support — 14 communities have signed agreements related to the project, but some are still opposed — and the joint federal-provincial review panel that put the project through a rigorous regulatory review deemed it to be in the public interest.

But the panel acknowledged in its review that the mine "may make it more difficult" for Canada to meet its Paris emissions reduction goals — targets Canada is already on track to miss without further emissions-cutting measures.

The project would generate about 4.1 megatonnes of emissions a year over its lifespan, though other estimates put the figure higher.

Opponents of the Frontier mine project say it will damage wetlands and harm Indigenous communities. (Julie Prejet/CBC)

Kenney has wasted no time in framing the issue as a test of whether Ottawa cares about Alberta.

"If they say no to this project, then they are signalling [Trudeau's] earlier statement that he wants to phase out the oilsands," Kenney said last week, referring to a 2017 statement made by the prime minister at a town hall (a comment he later walked back).

Kenney and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland spoke twice last week and are slated to speak again when they head to Washington, D.C. later this week.

But even if this emissions cap plan is acceptable to Kenney's government, it's likely to anger many of those who want more action on climate — and who were already upset with the government's purchase and promotion of the TMX pipeline expansion project.

Read more in the Minority Report newsletter

Read more from Vassy Kapelos' on the Teck mine decision in this week's Minority Report newsletter. Also in this week's issue, Éric Grenier looks at the Green Party leadership race and the Power Panel offers advice on what the parties should be doing in the week ahead. Plus, five things you may not have known about Liberal MP Lyne Bessette. To read all of that and more, sign up for the newsletter here and it will be delivered directly to your inbox every Sunday.


Vassy Kapelos


Vassy Kapelos is the host of Power & Politics. Prior to working in Ottawa, she covered provincial politics in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

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