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Cape Breton environment group asks Trudeau to reserve Donkin coal as "Security Interest"

Leave coal seam in the ground for strategic reserve says Margaree Environmental Association

by Miles Howe

The potential Donkin Coal mine, off the southern tip of Cape Breton Island. [Photo: www.ceaa.gc.ca]
The potential Donkin Coal mine, off the southern tip of Cape Breton Island. [Photo: www.ceaa.gc.ca]

Donkin, Nova Scotia -- With Kameron Collieries now actively seeking workers for its the Donkin, Cape Breton, coal mine – albeit in Alberta – attempts to keep the readily accessible coal seam in the ground may be futile at best. That isn't stopping members from the Cape Breton-based Margaree Environmental Association (MEA) from giving it one more try, however.

On January 6, the MEA took the fairly novel step of writing to the office of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. In their correspondence, the association requests that the federal government intervene in the project and “take steps” to reserve the Donkin Coal Seam in the interest of national security.

The letter, in part, reads as follows:

The Federal Government has the right for National Security Interests, to keep the coal at Donkin at Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia in the ground. This coal reserve is one that could be easily accessed in a time of national emergency, because of its ease of extraction and proximity to ports for ocean transport. This is likely the best site in eastern Canada for a coal reserve for national security, if needed in an emergency situation in the future.

At first glance, the idea of idling production on a viable coal seam in job-starved Cape Breton, not for the tried-and-true environmental arguments attached to coal mining - but instead based on matters of National Security – might seem more than a bit harebrained. But Neal Livingston, co-chair of the MEA, thinks there's merit in the idea, particularly in a province that seems to have lost its way in energy matters.

“We figured, here's the province either directly supporting this industry, or it actually has no means to stop these industries from going through,” says Livingston. “Keeping a supply of resources for national security purposes is not unknown and is actually not that unusual. While it might be unusual to talk about in modern times in Canada, this coal would be a very valuable resource in the case of an emergency.”

Livingston likens the idea of declaring the Donkin coal seam as a national reserve to various instances of countries holding onto grain reserves – saving some back in the case of a national emergency, or at the very least until prices become more competitive.

“If you have a situation – a war or a conflict, potentially - where Canada couldn't move things around within its own borders, or needed to provide resources to an ally, this coal is really a strategic resource that could be kept in the ground and doesn't need to be used now,” says Livingston.

There is, of course, the spectre of jobs to be reckoned with. Eastern Nova Scotia's unemployment rate hovers at around fifteen percent and while the Donkin coal mine has not entered the production phase, Kameron Collieries has publicly promised that staffing levels will initially require “between 90 and 120” individuals. With a suggested mineable reserve of 58 million tonnes and annual production slated to hover around the 2-3 million tonne mark, these theoretical jobs also hold the promise of being relatively long term, at about 30 years.

To this, Livingston counters that the province is at a potential transition point, both in its employment and energy strategies. Nova Scotia can either 'double down' on supporting renewable energy initiatives and employment, or remain a relative provincial laggard in the national green energy game.

“I think we'll need some help from the federal government to make those choices, because it's clear the province isn't engaging with the green economy, despite the fact that lots of citizens and businesses are,” says Livingston. “There a lots of Cape Bretoners already working in the renewable energy sector and these are often unionized jobs. There's other related jobs, with private companies, crane operators, electrical jobs, and these are local and international companies already working in these businesses.

“And really you can't have both. Either you're going to go for the green economy or for the pollution economy. And at this point, I think the province is stunned.”

As of press time, the Prime Minister's Office had not responded to the Margaree Environmental Association.

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Topics: Environment
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