U.S. Objects to Proposed Canadian Coal Mine

By Blaine Harden
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 9, 2007; 6:50 PM

SEATTLE, March 9 -- The Bush administration has objected to a proposed open-pit coal mine in Canada near the Montana border, citing the potential for irreversible environmental damage to Glacier National Park, pristine trout streams and the largest natural lake in the West.

The objection -- in a Feb. 23 letter from the State Department to the provincial government of British Columbia -- comes after nearly six years of demands from elected officials in Montana for federal action to stop the mine.

The State Department letter has not been made public, but news of its existence was greeted on Friday as a significant breakthrough in an environmental quarrel that has created bad blood between British Columbia and Montana.

When Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) traveled to British Columbia in 2005 to discuss the mine, he was publicly warned by the provincial minister for mining that, "You're actually not welcome here." Through a spokesman, Baucus on Friday called Bush administration's opposition to the mine "a great development that shows the U.S. government means business."

About 25 miles north of the border, the Cline Mining Corporation of Canada wants to lop off the top of a mountain and over the next 20 years haul away 40 million tons of coal -- in a drainage that forms the headwaters of the North Fork of the Flathead River.

The company said Friday it would not comment on the State Department letter.

In Washington, a spokesman at the Canadian Embassy said the State Department's letter would be taken into account.

The North Fork of the Flathead, which the federal government says would quickly be contaminated with heavy metals and other mining pollutants, forms the western boundary of Glacier Park. It then flows south into Flathead Lake, often described as the largest pristine lake in the nation and a major recreation site.

The Flathead region of Montana has exploded in population in recent years, with wealthy newcomers drawn from across the country because of its beauty and status as one of the most ecologically intact watersheds in the world. The North Fork of the Flathead flows through a region that is home to grizzly bears, lynx, wolverine and stocks of bull trout and cutthroat trout.

"We believe that significant adverse environmental effects may occur in the United States should the Cline Mining Company project move forward as proposed," said the letter from Edward Alex Lee, director of the office of Canadian affairs at the State Department.

That letter was sent to British Columbia officials together with a more detailed and more strongly worded document from the Interior Department, which said the proposed mine "has the potential to generate significant adverse environmental effect downstream in the United States that cannot be mitigated."

Two decades ago, a similar Canadian mining proposal near the Montana border was abandoned after an investigation by the International Joint Commission, which resolves U.S-Canadian water disputes. Three years ago, the State Department told Canada that it believes the commission's recommendation "still stands," but it did not ask then for another investigation or formally ask that the mine not be built.


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