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Provincial environmental assessment certificate will not be granted for Sukunka coal mine near Chetwynd

George Heyman, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, speaks at the Canadian Bioeconomy Conference and Exhibition in Prince George Friday. Bill Phillips photo
George Heyman, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy.

VICTORIA – A B.C. environmental assessment certificate will not be issued for the proposed Sukunka coal mine project in northeastern B.C., following a joint decision by provincial ministers.

George Heyman, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, and Josie Osborne, Minister of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation, made their decision after carefully considering the environmental assessment of the project conducted by B.C.’s Environmental Assessment Office (EAO). The assessment of the project proposed by Glencore involved extensive consultation with technical experts, federal and local authorities, First Nations and the public.

The EAO recommended a certificate not be issued after concluding that the key mitigation measures proposed would be unlikely to reduce the potential negative impacts of the project to an acceptable level.

The assessment found the project would have significant adverse and cumulative effects on the threatened and red-listed Quintette caribou herd, increasing the risk of its extinction. Following substantial discussions between Glencore, federal and provincial caribou experts, Treaty 8 First Nations and the EAO, the EAO concluded that even with proposed mitigation measures and requirements, impacts to caribou would be significant if the project were to proceed.

The EAO’s assessment additionally found that the project would have significant cumulative effects on grizzly bears, by adding to existing impacts from previous development in the region, as well as adverse impacts to First Nations, such as treaty rights to hunt.

The project also requires a federal environmental assessment and decision. The B.C. EAO carried out the assessment on behalf of the federal government under a “substitution agreement.” This means the one assessment carried out by the EAO is used to support separate decisions by each level of government, eliminating the duplication of two assessments for a single project. The federal decision was also announced Dec. 21, 2022.

The Sukunka project was proposed by Glencore as an open-pit mining operation and coal processing plant about 55 kilometres south of Chetwynd and 40 kilometres west of Tumbler Ridge. The proposal was for production of approximately three megatonnes of metallurgical coal per year for export to overseas steel manufacturers over 22 years. Preliminary studies by the company indicated the Sukunka Project would have created approximately 700 jobs during construction and 250 permanent jobs once operational.

Every project that undergoes an environmental assessment is assessed thoroughly on the specific and individual merits of that particular project.

As part of British Columbia’s environmental assessment process, First Nations, government agencies, local governments, stakeholders and the public have input on decisions about major projects. The Sukunka project was assessed under the 2002 Environmental Assessment Act, which considers the potential environmental, economic, social, heritage and health effects of a proposed project.

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