Renewed interest in High Arctic coal mining unearths angry opposition – by Randy Boswell (National Post/Postmedia News – July 9, 2012)

A proposed Arctic coal-mining project that was rejected by a Nunavut development regulator in 2010 but has been revived by another Canadian company has triggered renewed concern about the potential impact on wildlife, Inuit hunting grounds and world-renowned fossil sites on Ellesmere and Axel Heiberg islands.
Linking the rebirth of the planned coal dig on Canada’s northernmost landmasses with recent federal cuts to Arctic environmental monitoring, Green Party leader Elizabeth May said: “Is it a coincidence that one of the most polluting resource-extraction industries is now ready to exploit the area?”
The Arctic-coal controversy has re-emerged at a time when scientists across Canada are sounding alarms about the potential impact of budget cuts to Canadian environmental research and ecosystem monitoring capacity. On Tuesday, hundreds of scientists attending a conference in Ottawa, along with allied environmental advocates, are scheduled to take part in a mock funeral march to Parliament Hill — a so-called “Death of Evidence” protest.
May, in a statement issued last week about Vancouver-based Canada Coal Inc.’s planned test-drilling in the High Arctic next summer, criticized recent federal budget cuts to science funding bodies that had been supporting PEARL, the Ellesmere Island-based Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory.
“When most countries are turning their backs on dirty coal, Canada is allowing its extraction in one of the most ecologically fragile and archeologically significant places in the world,” May said. “It is doing this after dismantling the well-placed PEARL monitoring capacities that would have given us some appreciation of the damage being done. This is not good news. It’s time to bring back the scientists.”
John Streicker, the Green Party’s national president and chief spokesman on Arctic issues, told Postmedia News on Monday that the party does not issue “knee-jerk” rejections of all mining projects. But the Yukon resident said the Arctic’s unique environment requires the government to be “even more careful” in assessing potential resource projects in the region — particularly when coal’s considerable carbon footprint has contributed to the emissions widely seen to be driving the Arctic sea-ice meltdown in the first place.
“Coal itself is part of what’s causing this massive change,” he said.
It’s been known since the travels of 19th century Arctic explorers that Ellesmere and Axel Heiberg islands have substantial coal deposits. But it wasn’t deemed to be feasibly extractable until melting sea ice in the past decade improved the prospect of reliably shipping excavated coal out of Canada’s Far North.
A proposal from B.C.-based Weststar Resources Corp. to mine coal from the islands — potentially one of the world’s most northerly industrial operations — was derailed in February 2010 when the Nunavut Impact Review Board ruled that “the high likelihood of immitigable impacts” to wildlife and globally-significant fossil beds in the region demanded that the project be “modified or abandoned” by its B.C.-based developer.
The territorial review board’s decision was hailed at the time as a victory of fossil science over fossil fuel by the international Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, which had described the proposed project as a threat to “some of the most significant sites in the world” for fossil researchers.
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