MiningWatch Canada is currently participating, as a member of the Canadian Environmental Network (CEN), in a multistakeholder review of the Metal Mining Effluent Regulations (MMER). The MMER were originally promulgated under the Fisheries Act (section 36) in 1977. The revised regulations came into force in 2002 — following a 12 year review process — with a new appendix, “Schedule 2”, that was added at the very end of the review process. Schedule 2 identifies tailings impoundment areas. By being placed on Schedule 2 a natural water body is redefined as a tailings impoundment area.
In 2002, CEN representatives in the review process were assured that Schedule 2 would serve to deal with ‘historic’ cases in which lakes had been used as tailings impoundments as these mines would otherwise find themselves out of compliance with the regulation. Now, however, Schedule 2 is being used by mining company Aur Resources for a proposed copper-zinc mine near Buchans, Newfoundland, to destroy two ponds that contain trout and Atlantic Salmon by using them for environmentally toxic mine waste. These two ponds, as well as nearby brooks and streams that will also be affected by the mine, are part of the Exploits River watershed (the largest watershed in Newfoundland). Environment Canada and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans officials have approved the inclusion of these two ponds onto schedule 2 of the revised regulations. The new regulations will be sent to Gazette I in April for public consultation ahead of government approval. We are concerned about the following:
1. The apparent willingness of government and industry to sacrifice ponds, rivers, trout and salmon habitat to benefit a mine that has a predicted lifespan of only 6.2 years.
2. The legal obligation on the proponent and on regional Environment Canada authorities to explore alternative mine waste disposal options was not taken seriously.
3. Required “compensation” plans for the “alteration, disruption, or destruction of lacustrine [lake/pond] and riverine fish habitat” are based on inadequate and deficient data collection. The compensation plan review process in this case shows a cavalier attitude towards the natural resources that are being sacrificed.
4. After a predicted 6.2 years of operations, the destruction of two ponds and the degradation of wider river/aquatic habitat, this mine will become a “perpetual care and maintenance” mine. In the middle of a critical watershed for Newfoundland, this mine’s highly acidic waste has the potential to leach out metals and will need to be kept under water behind a number of dams that will need to be maintained “in perpetuity.”
This will be the first time that a new mine has received permission under the Metal Mining Effluent Regulations to destroy fish habitat by redefining it as a tailings impoundment. However, other mining companies have indicated that they too will seek to have natural water bodies containing fish included on schedule two in the future. These include the Red Chris and the Kemess North projects in British Columbia.
For more information on the history of the Metal Mining Effluent Regulations see the CEN backgrounder.
For more detail on the four concerns regarding the Aur Resources project in Newfoundland outlined above see “Issues of Concern Regarding Aur Resources‚ Proposed Duck Pond Mine in Central Newfoundland”.