In the Yukon, there are 120 mines that have been abandoned by their owners, of which 45 have serious toxic and physical stability problems. (At present, placer mining is the only mining activity in the Yukon.) The costs of cleaning up these sites is estimated at over $400 million. Despite this overwhelming evidence, the Yukon government is still considering a reclamation policy that allows financially questionable mines to go ahead instead of protecting taxpayers and the environment from the huge costs of abandonment.
First Nations and environmental groups in the Yukon are raising alarms about the draft reclamation policy. The federal government has indicated that the policy will be based on the same principles and standards as the NWT and Nunavut policies, which have no link to regulation. However, in the Yukon, the policy must "harmonize" with the regulatory requirements of the Yukon Quartz Mine Act and the Yukon Placer Mining Act.
The Yukon, Nunavut, and NWT policies are only policies and are not enshrined in law and regulation. As we have seen with the Cantung and Prairie Creek mines, mines can still operate without reclamation bonds of any kind.
The proposed Yukon Reclamation Code will not apply to prospecting and exploration, nor existing mines. There is nothing in the policy criteria about full cost recovery, public participation, or protection of public health and the environment.
Although there is a reference to technical guidelines in the document, the guidelines are nowhere to be found, and instead references are made to "current standards and practices', with no indication of who will define them. The Code also recommends an "exit ticket" for final closure and decommissioning, despite the need to monitor and treat effluents in perpetuity.
MiningWatch Canada will be working with Yukon groups to ensure that any new reclamation policy protects people and the environment.