Image: WATERTON LAKES NATIONAL PARK
Travel Alberta
The dispute over a proposed coal mine centers on its potential impact on Canada's Waterton Lakes National Park, part of which is seen here, and Glacier National Park across the border.
updated 10/3/2007 10:16:47 AM ET 2007-10-03T14:16:47

U.S. and Canadian officials plan to meet this month in Paris to discuss how an international park on their border could be protected from a proposed coal mine nearby.

The Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park was designated by the United Nations as a World Heritage Site in 1995. The mine would be north of Montana's Glacier National Park, which abuts Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, where the province meets British Columbia. The two parks make up the international park.

"Proposed energy development north of Glacier has the potential to be a big problem," said U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., who said the U.S. Interior Department told him arrangements will be worked out this week for the meeting during the World Heritage Convention on Oct. 24-25.

"Before any proposal moves forward, we need to know how this development will affect the Waterton-Glacier area and what steps British Columbia is willing to take to reduce the impacts of their energy development," Rehberg said.

Canada's Cline Mining Co. has proposed developing a coal mine in southeastern British Columbia, but has not yet requested government permits.

British Columbia officials have said energy development in the province will not proceed without adequate environmental safeguards.

U.S. Senators Max Baucus and Jon Tester, both from Montana, recently urged that top U.S. officials work to help add Waterton-Glacier to a list of World Heritage Sites in danger. Of some 850 World Heritage Sites, about 30 are classified as endangered.

Baucus and Tester said Waterton-Glacier faces "multiple and immediate threats" due to the coal project and the potential for energy giant BP to extract coal-bed methane in the headwaters of the North Fork of the Flathead River, which borders the park and runs into Montana's Flathead Lake.

Baucus and Tester have asked Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne to nominate Waterton-Glacier to the list, saying the proposed mining and drilling would "contaminate one of the park's most pristine rivers, destroy the habitat of endangered species and compromise the natural character that makes the Peace Park a world treasure."

The senators also say the coal mining and coal-bed methane projects could have devastating consequences for Montana's fish and wildlife, and for the Flathead's recreation industry, and would have no economic benefits for Montana.

To have Glacier Park added to the List of World Heritage in Danger, Rice and Kempthorne must petition the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO. The committee would then evaluate the nature of the threat to determine if the site warrants inclusion on the list.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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