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Posted: May 23, 2020

It’s time to start planning for a post-coal future

Letter to the Editor

With major investment firms like JPMorgan Chase and Blackrock swearing off coal used to generate electricity because of its outsized greenhouse gas emissions and Canada planning to phase out coal-fired electricity generation by 2030, it’s time to take a hard look at the Elk Valley’s coal mines.

Teck exports 24 million tonnes of steelmaking coal every year from the valley, making the company North America’s largest producer of steelmaking coal and Canada’s largest coal miner by far.

While Teck is always quick to argue that steelmaking coal is different from thermal coal, from the perspective of our atmosphere, there’s no difference. Once burned, 99% of the carbon in steelmaking coal ends up as greenhouse gases.

Direct emissions from Teck’s coal mines are substantial at 1.7 million tonnes per year, or as much as half a million B.C. cars and light trucks. But the end use of Teck’s coal adds to our global climate crisis as much as all of British Columbia’s emissions—that’s more than every car, truck, farm, industrial site and gas well in our province, around 64 million tonnes in total. A tiny increase in production at Teck’s mines could easily wipe out all of our climate gains from electric cars in B.C.

With an Environmental Assessment in progress for Castle Mountain, a major expansion of Teck’s coal mines, we have to ask ourselves if we want to commit to mining coal until 2050 or later. Steelmaking is responsible for five per cent of global emissions, as much as the worldwide aviation industry.

Fortunately, we don’t have to swear off steel to stop using steelmaking coal. Already, 30% of the world’s steel production uses electric arc furnaces, fed with recycled steel or iron smelted with natural gas and hydrogen. Existing steel mills around the world already run on a mix of natural gas, hydrogen and electricity, making substituting more renewable energy into the process in the form of hydrogen a relatively simple change. There are 100% hydrogen and electric pilot plants already under construction.

We don’t need coal to make steel—and with the climate crisis worsening every day, we absolutely can’t afford to keep using dirty coal.

We were disappointed to hear Teck spreading serious misinformation at an online open house for the Environmental Assessment of the Castle mine expansion.

Teck claimed that “steelmaking coal is not actually burned to make steel” (it is), and that “there are other ways to make steel, but none are yet economically viable, they’re still in the research stage” and “many decades into the future” (The direct-reduced iron and electric arc furnace process, which generally uses no coal, is already in use at production plants around the world, including here in Canada). B.C. needs to make sure Teck is honest about the climate impacts of their coal mines.

It’s time to start planning for a post-coal future in the Elk Valley. In addition to their big climate impacts, Teck’s mines are sending dangerous water pollution downstream, putting fish in danger not just locally, but into the US as well.

With the Castle mine, Bighorn sheep and other wildlife will lose more critical habitat to an additional 25 square kilometres of open pit mining.

With three other proposed coal mines in the same valley also in the Environmental Assessment process, it’s time to stop pretending that steelmaking coal doesn’t have climate consequences and start looking towards the huge task of attempting to restore the 150 square kilometres of open pit coal mines and the heavily polluted waters of the Elk River watershed.

Lars Sander-Green
Mining Coordinator, Wildsight,

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