Toronto's Globe and Mail reports that a coalition of environmentalists from both Canada and the U.S. have petitioned the U.N. to protect both Glacier National Park and Waterton Lakes from proposed coal mining and natural gas drilling near the headwaters of the Flathead River in British Columbia. They contend that these two parks, which together comprise a UNESCO World Heritage site, are in immediate danger, and they hope the U.N. will intervene by placing the parks on the UN's World Heritage in Danger list.
"There is substantial danger that the existing statutory and regulatory framework will fail to adequately protect Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park and its surrounding lands from adverse impacts caused by mining and CBM [coal bed methane] development in the headwaters of the Flathead River," the groups state in a letter to Francesco Bandarin, director of the UN's World Heritage Centre.
Backers for energy development in British Columbia claim that they can safely operate the mine within rigorous standards, but conservationists aren't buying it. They say the proposed huge, open-pit coal mine could remove as much as 40 million tons of coal from the earth, creating over 300 million tons of waste rock in the process. Additionally, natural gas development could lead to thousands of drilling wells in a 500-square-kilometer area, leading to poisonous, difficult-to-contain runoff that could contaminate the Flathead River. The Flathead River forms the western border of Glacier.
Montana politicians have been roundly critical of the proposed energy exploration, and even presumed Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama reportedly weighed in during a visit to the state early this week.
"Barack Obama supports efforts by Senators Max Baucus, Jon Tester as well as Governor Brian Schweitzer to stop the Cline mine," Matt Chandler, of Mr. Obama's Montana press office, states in an e-mail that was released yesterday.
"The Flathead River and Glacier National Park are treasures that should be conserved for future generations."
Obama cleanly won Montana yesterday, helping clinch his party's nomination for president. But it remains to be seen whether protecting Glacier and Waterton Lakes from energy interests will join other issues like the war in Iraq and the economy as central debating points for Obama and McCain over the next five months. (Hint: Don't hold your breath).
— Ted Alvarez