Association mining

Mining association opposes proposed federal coal effluent rules

‘(Environment Canada) is proposing end-of-stream and in-stream selenium limits that are simply not achievable with current, proven technology. It’s not a matter of cost. The technology does not currently exist…’

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The Canadian mining industry opposes tougher federal coal effluent rules, saying the proposed regulations are neither practical nor backed by science.

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“We just don’t see a path to reach those limits,” said Pierre Gratton of the Mining Association of Canada, who expressed concerns in a March 2 letter to Environment Canada.

“(Environment Canada) has not provided a rationale for going beyond the agreed limits.”

The federal government has been trying to draft effluent rules for coal since 2017, in response to industry requests.

Coal mines are currently regulated under the Fisheries Act, which includes a blanket ban on any contaminants entering a waterway. The industry wanted bespoke rules that would clearly address the specific concerns of coal mining. There are three active coal mines in Saskatchewan — two in the Estevan/Bienfait area and one near Coronach.

After four rounds of consultation, the government released a new regulatory discussion paper in January. The comment period ended this month.

This document limits what can come out of the effluent tailpipe for three contaminants: suspended solids, nitrate and selenium – an element known to harm fish reproduction. The industry says the proposed limits for nitrate and selenium, already increased from the previous version, are still too stringent.

Selenium, for example, would be limited to an average reading of 10 micrograms per liter in effluent from new and existing mines.

“(Environment Canada) is proposing end-of-stream and in-stream selenium limits that are simply not achievable with current, proven technology,” reads the association’s letter.

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“It’s not a matter of cost. The technology doesn’t currently exist to consistently do what (Environment Canada) has proposed.”

Gratton said the proposed limits undermine discussions in places like Elk Valley in British Columbia, where a wide range of stakeholders have already developed a management plan for a selenium problem created by decades of coal mining.

“They’re proposing lower limits than what we’ve come to,” he said.

The objective of the discussion paper would be difficult to achieve even for new mines, said Charles Dumaresq, head of science and environmental management for the mining association.

“Even at those limits, they’re really pushing the boundaries of what current technology can accomplish.”

The association also points out that the suggested limits are based on general guidelines intended to protect aquatic ecosystems and not on specific research on the behavior of selenium in watersheds, such as that which was carried out in the Elk Valley. .

“(Environment Canada) was unable to justify why the lower tier is necessary,” Gratton said.

The association supports much of what is in the effluent proposal.

“There is a very strong environmental monitoring component that (Environment Canada) offers,” Dumaresq said. “It provides real-time evidence that there are issues, certain things that companies need to improve. We support that.

Environmental groups have criticized the industry’s pushback on the working paper.

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They say the tighter restrictions are warranted, given the unknowns about how selenium moves through rivers and streams. They add that regulations should prioritize the environment, not industry capabilities.

According to John Pomeroy, Canada Research Chair in Water Resources and Climate Change at the University of Saskatchewan, about 99% of the South Saskatchewan River’s flow comes from Alberta, much of it in areas that could be affected by coal mining.

There is a risk of substances like selenium ending up in bodies of water like Lake Diefenbaker, where the province has announced a $4 billion irrigation project.

They also criticized the document for its reliance on what comes out of the pipe, instead of a comprehensive look at the effects of effluent.

Gratton said the discussion paper is a good start, but needs work.

“They presented the ingredients for something that can be made to work well. But there are some pretty big issues that need to be addressed.

Environment Canada is planning another 60-day comment period at the end of the year with a final version of the regulations expected by the end of 2023.

With files Saskatoon Star-Phoenix

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