A conservation group and local MLA have clashed over a petition opposing new coal mining activity in the Elk Valley.
Sierra Club BC is calling for a moratorium on new mines and mine expansion projects in the Valley until pollution from exisiting operations is brought under control.
“Communities should not have to deal with impacts like black rain from coal dust falling across neighbourhoods and polluted drinking water,” reads the Sierra BC campaign page.
“Selenium pollution from mining is also causing birth defects in birds like American dippers and deformities in westslope cutthroat trout, a popular species for local fishing listed under the Species at Risk Act due to its declining stocks.”
Kootenay East MLA Tom Shyptika has lashed out at Sierra Club BC on Facebook, accusing the group of fear mongering and labelling them “eco-terrorists”.
“The mining industry has come leaps and bounds over the past 100 years,” wrote Shypitka.
“Don’t get taken in by eco-terrorists. British Columbians do it best and our workers, corporations and unions should be celebrated along with it.”
Sierra Club BC Campaigns Director Caitlyn Vernon has written a letter to Shypitka’s office demanding an apology and defending the registered charity, which has existed for 50 years.
“It is deeply irresponsible for an elected official to accuse Sierra Club BC of being ‘eco-terrorists’. I request you retract your comments and apologize,” wrote Vernon.
She defends Sierra Club BC’s position, citing a recent Teck Coal summary of predicted pollution levels, which shows the company isn’t expected to meet current limits until 2023, as well as B.C.’s Auditor General Carol Bellringer, who found the province’s mining compliance and enforcement program was inadequate during a 2016 audit.
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“… mining practices in the Elk Valley have not changed significantly when it comes to curtailing water pollution. The problem is getting worse, not better,” wrote Vernon.
Vernon also disputes the MLA’s claim that mining coal “will lead us to a low carbon economy” and help Canada reduce greenhouse gases.
“Exporting approximately 24 million tonnes of coal from the Elk Valley each year yields roughly 60-63 million tonnes of CO2 pollution when coal is burned to produce steel,” Vernon writes.
“That’s almost exactly equal to B.C.’s entire annual reported carbon emissions, which were 62 million tonnes in 2017. Mining operations in the Elk Valley make up three per cent of B.C.’s reported annual emissions.”
When contacted by The Free Press, Shypitka, who is the Opposition Critic for Energy and Mines, acknowledged there are water quality concerns in the Elk Valley.
However, he maintains that Sierra Club’s statements that Teck is “relentlessly” extracting coal and is being given a “free pass to pollute” by the B.C. Government are inflammatory and unfounded.
“There are regulations and a high environmental standard that must be adhered to, which are some of the highest in the world,” he said in an email to The Free Press.
“Industry is not getting a free pass. Teck has committed close to a billion dollars for active water treatment facilities. I see the new water treatment equipment being placed on the ground and getting ready to start up.”
Shypitka has committed to raising these issues with the B.C. Government. He said he welcomes the views of all groups concerned but has called for “swords down”.
“We have close to 13,000 family’s (sic) livelihoods between direct and indirect jobs on the line here,” he said. “Let’s take a responsible approach to this very sensitive and serious situation.”
To read the full Sierra Club BC letter and Shypitka’s statements, visit Thefreepress.ca.