Environmental Assessments Include Climate

By Chris Wood,  Natural Security columnist

West Elk Mountains, Colorado, Photo by Ken Lund, Flickr, Creative Commons
West Elk Mountains, Colorado. Photo: Ken Lund via Flickr, Creative Commons

How wide to cast the net when examining the environmental damage a proposed industrial development might do, is a contested issue. In Canada, panels weighing the impacts of proposed oil pipelines from Alberta to the Pacific Coast have repeatedly refused to consider the damage that may occur from climate change as a result of the transported oil being burned. A similar tension has bedeviled hearings into proposals to expand coal exports through Vancouver. 

In January, separate suits by environmental groups and First Nations challenged, in Canada’s Federal Court, a license issued to Enbridge Inc. to build its proposed Northern Gateway bitumen pipeline. They argued that the project’s environmental impact assessment was flawed in not considering its downstream climate impact. (The cases are still pending.)

The Canadian argument received some moral support from across the border. In June, a United States federal judge in Colorado invalidated a U.S. federal license for a coal mine on similar ground: because its proponents and the permitting agency (the Bureau of Land Management) had failed to adequately consider the mine’s climate impacts — including the impact of burning the coal it produced.

U.S. District Court Judge R. Brooke Jackson found that while the mine’s proponents had been able to calculate its anticipated economic benefits “down to the job and the nearest $100,000,” they had failed to address the potential economic costs associated with the climate impacts of methane released during production, and of other greenhouse gas released when the mine’s product was consumed. 

Ignoring “the social cost of coal,’’ Jackson said, the Bureau and Arch Coal, developers of the West Elk Mine, had produced, “half of a cost-benefit analysis.”

Copyright Chris Wood 2014

Further reading:
A Canary for Coal Mines, by Brian Calvert in High Country News: http://www.hcn.org/articles/new-coal-and-climate-policy


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