Green Leader Elizabeth May wants Donkin coal mine turfed

By: Andrea Gunn

Publication Source: Halifax Chronicle Herald

January 8, 2016

Elizabeth May, leader of the Green party, is calling on Nova Scotia to halt plans to open a coal mine in Cape Breton, citing environmental factors and a global market swiftly moving toward greener energy sources.

The Donkin coal mine, which could be opened as early as this summer, has a projected annual production of about three million tonnes and could employ more than 100 people. It could also provide a local source of coal for Nova Scotia Power, which uses coal-fired energy as part of its electricity grid.

But May said the provincial government ought to put a stop to the private project in favour of supporting renewable energy initiatives that will create more long-term jobs.

“We know that burning fossil fuels creates the climate crisis; some fossil fuels are cleaner than others, and nothing is dirtier than coal,” May told The Chronicle Herald.

She said allowing the operation of the mine will have a negative impact on national and provincial greenhouse gas emission targets and is a stark contradiction to the Paris agreement that aims to keep global warming below 1.5 C.

“A soon as you start exploiting those coal seams, you’re going to have fugitive emissions. … Methane going into the atmosphere is a very powerful warming gas in the short term,” May said.

“Then when you take it to a coal-fired power plant and burn it, then you have CO2, which is long term.”

May said she realizes the importance of job creation in areas like Cape Breton, where unemployment is high, but with many countries moving away form coal-fired energy, there are better options.

“There are far more good, long-term jobs in putting our effort into 21st-century industries and not banking on the 19th century. Around the world, money is moving away from coal, and to open up new infrastructure that’s dedicated to a dying industry is not going to be good for the region.”

The fact the Nova Scotia government is considering utilizing Cape Breton coal in the electricity grid is also a concern for May, who said coal mined from the region is dirtier than coal extracted from other areas.

“We’re looking at a higher content of mercury, other pollutants, poly-aromatic hydrocarbons and sulphur dioxide,” she said.

Encouraging investment in solar, tidal and wind power where jobs are needed would provide sustainable employment and help with Nova Scotia’s electricity needs, May said.

“Every single member of Parliament in Nova Scotia is a Liberal. They should be in a good position to talk to the minister for infrastructure and talk to the minister of environment to develop good jobs in infrastructure that will also help get Nova Scotia off coal altogether.

“There are a lot of alternatives; it’s not just 100 jobs in the Donkin mine or there’s nothing.”

Cape Breton-Canso MP Rodger Cuzner said he approves of the Donkin project, as it will create badly needed jobs in the region in an industry that has a significant global market.

“In the perfect world, everybody has solar panels and we live off energy created by windmills, but that, in fact, isn’t the case,” Cuzner said.

“There’s still a market for coal, and those that are using coal will find a supplier. We have that resource.”

He said jobs created by the mine will boost the economy, creating more jobs in other sectors.

As for moving Nova Scotia away from coal-powered electricity, Cuzner said that’s another issue.

“The province has taken significant steps with the hydro project out of Labrador, Churchill Falls. I think that will go a long way in moving us towards a greener Nova Scotia.”

Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna was not available for an interview, but a spokeswoman from her office said the environmental assessment for the Donkin project, conducted under former Conservative environment minister Peter Kent, identified mitigation measures that will prevent or reduce any significant adverse environmental effects the project may cause.

She said the Liberal government is committed to working with the provinces and territories to take action on climate change and reduce emissions.