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The Coal Association of Canada says Ottawa’s recent ban on new thermal coal mining projects or plans to expand existing mines on environmental damage grounds will lead to the market gap left being filled with inferior-quality coal from elsewhere.

According to the association’s president, Robin Campbell, Canadian thermal coal is considered extremely high quality and has a low sulphur content relative to world standards.

“The loss of coal from Canada will likely be replaced by production from other countries that do not have the same commitment to our high standards,” he said in a statement in response to the federal announcement on June 11.

In announcing the new policy measure, Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said the power-making bulk product was the single most significant contributor to climate change.

“The continued mining of and use of thermal coal for energy production energy in the world runs counter to what is needed to effectively combat climate change and seize the economic opportunities that it presents,” said Wilkinson.

Canada's Coal Association responds to Ottawa's thermal coal mine ban
A breakdown of global coal use. (Credit: Natural Resources Canada)

The policy is in line with regulations unveiled in 2018 by the Canadian government to phase out traditional coal-fired electricity by 2030.

Government data ranks Canada as the world’s fourth-largest exporter of metallurgical or steelmaking coal at 57 million tonnes in 2019, of which 37 million tonnes were exported, and a further eight million tonnes were imported. Alberta and British Columbia produced 83% of Canada’s met coal, comprising 47% thermal coal and 53% metallurgical coal.

Canada's Coal Association responds to Ottawa's thermal coal mine ban
Canada’s declining coal production profile from 2009 to 2019. Credit: Natural Resources Canada

The Coal Association says it supports sustainable climate change goals. Still, it is concerned the policy does not reflect “the significant progress” that is being made on carbon capture, storage and use (CCSU) technology.

“We are already seeing positive results from CCSU technology in Canada, and this can allow coal to remain an affordable part of the energy mix while meeting climate goals. Today, coal still powers over one-third of global electricity generation, and this is expected to continue until at least 2040,” says Campbell.

The association also says it “understands and acknowledges” concerns about downstream selenium contamination from major coal mines.

“The industry has, and will continue to adopt, a ‘multiple line of defence’ approach that is part of the mine design process. We are confident these approaches will satisfy both provincial and federal requirements,” says Campbell.

Downstream from British Columbia and Alberta’s coal mines, lawmakers in Montana, in the US, had recently taken action seeking to reduce the permissible selenium levels including in the Kootenai River and Lake Koocanusa, which straddles the Montana-BC border.

The rulemaking follows a damning report by the US Environmental Protection Agency in September 2019, pointing to Teck Resources’ Elk Valley coal mines as the source of elevated selenium levels in downstream watercourses.

The association will provide more detailed analysis and recommendations on selenium management via an expert report prepared by Guy Gilron and Gord McKenna dated June 7. The report will be appended to the association’s pending submission to Alberta’s Coal Policy Committee in the coming days.