Canadian Ambassador Rejects Joint Panel Review for Cline Mine

By Beacon Staff

HELENA (AP) – Three leading Montana representatives should reconsider their efforts to intervene as officials in Canada consider potential mining and drilling on the northern side of the transboundary Flathead River Basin, Canada’s U.S. ambassador and British Columbia’s premier indicated in letters.

Ambassador Michael Wilson on Monday told Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester they were off base in proposing an international panel review environmental aspects of potential coal mining and coal-bed methane work in southeastern British Columbia. In a separate letter to Gov. Brian Schweitzer last week, Premier Gordon Campbell sent a mixed response to the governor’s proposal that state and provincial representatives meet to discuss environmental issues spanning the border. Campbell also questioned Montana’s environmental record.

“We recognize in particular that Montana’s land-use and resource development decisions elsewhere in the state mean the Flathead Basin is the only remaining major protected area in Montana,” the premier wrote. Most of the state is “pretty pristine,” Schweitzer responded Monday in a telephone interview.

In a one-sentence statement responding to Wilson’s letter, Baucus and Tester said Canadian officials “need to understand that no matter how they present their proposal to mine or drill upstream from Glacier (National) Park, the answer is always going to be ‘no.'”

Critics of Cline Mining Co.’s proposal to remove coal north of the park, and the potential for British Petroleum to extract coal-bed methane in the area, say water quality downstream in Montana could be harmed. British Columbia officials have said the projects are not imminent and if they do advance, the environment will be protected.

Commenting on Campbell’s letter, Schweitzer said it was encouraging the premier did not entirely reject Montana’s call for a December meeting at which state and provincial officials would discuss the Flathead’s future. Campbell, expressing disappointment that Montana rejected working with the province through an “action plan” its officials developed, said he is receptive to a meeting only if the agenda is broad and includes climate issues.

Climate change, not potential coal and coal-bed methane work, is the biggest threat to the Flathead environment, said Campbell, who wrote that Montana could be more like British Columbia and take “decisive action on climate change.” He also said coal-bed methane activity in the province pales compared to the 807 producing wells that he has been told operate in Montana.

Schweitzer said there had been no suggestion from Montana that only one topic be discussed at the meeting, which he still hopes will happen by year’s end.

The governor said Montana is not passive on the global climate issue, but the state and province are limited in what they can do about it. Caring for the Flathead River Basin, however, is within reach, Schweitzer said. He dismissed Campbell’s point about coal-bed methane work in Montana versus British Columbia.

“Wyoming has 20,000 coal-bed methane wells and they believe Montana is holding them back, as well,” he said. “If you have rivers that flow into Montana, we will ask you to protect our waters. Sometimes it is in the south and sometimes in the north.”

In the letter to Baucus and Tester, Wilson said Canadian environmental law will require an assessment of cross-border environmental effects if Cline requests permits for its project.

Neither Canadian nor U.S. environmental laws provide for the joint review panel suggested by Baucus and Tester, and convening one is unnecessary, Wilson wrote.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.