Mining Watchdog Says Environmental Assessment Key to Rebuilding Economy: “Don’t bulldoze our future in the rush for ‘shovel ready’ projects!”

(Ottawa) The Conservative government may wish to focus on ‘shovel-ready’ projects in its efforts to stimulate the economy, but it must not destroy the prospects for a sustainable economy in the process.

Oft-repeated claims that it takes too long for decisions to be made on large projects, including mining projects, are not entirely baseless. There are serious examples of excessive delay. But MiningWatch Canada, which advocates for responsible mining practices, says this is primarily due to badly-planned projects and bureaucratic failures – not to the fact that projects are subject to limited public scrutiny through environmental assessments.

“Environmental assessment brings a measure of transparency and accountability to decision-making, whether it’s on a small footbridge or a huge open-pit mine,” says MiningWatch spokesman Jamie Kneen. “If a project is badly designed, or just a bad idea to begin with, the public needs a way to make sure it is fixed – or stopped. Project proponents may not like that, but it’s hard to argue that it’s not in the public interest.”

The mining watchdog vows to oppose any initiative to diminish federal oversight over environmental assessment, or to further limit the public’s access to information and ability to participate.

“Delays and duplication can certainly be problematic in some cases,” says Kneen, “but in reality they occur either when companies haven’t done their homework –– whether it’s in environmental planning or in community relations –– or when government agencies don’t do their jobs, whether it’s in coordinating with other jurisdictions or in consulting Aboriginal Peoples and accommodating their interests.”

Adds Kneen, “Public involvement is what makes project proponents and government decision-makers accountable. We’ve taken the federal government all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada to protect the public’s role under the existing environmental assessment laws, and we’re not about to let them cut the public out.”

[In 2007, MiningWatch won a judicial review of the federal environmental assessment of the Red Chris open pit copper-gold mine project in northern British Columbia based on the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and Natural Resources’ Canada having narrowed the scope of the assessment, changing it from a comprehensive study to a screening, and excluding public involvement. The organisation, represented by Ecojustice, is appealing the Federal Court of Appeal ruling that overturned that decision.]

“Whether this government chooses to recognise it or not, the fact is that our collective future depends on improving environmental assessment, not eliminating it. We need sound and accountable decision-making now more than ever, and that means expanding our consideration of the environmental factors and better integrating them into our decisions.” Kneen says. “Just stimulating the economy won’t work; we have to rebuild it so it’s sustainable, and a sound and inclusive environmental assessment process is essential to that. We’re telling the government they can move ahead with ‘shovel ready’ projects – just don’t bulldoze our futures in the process!”

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Contact: Jamie Kneen, Communications and Outreach Coordinator, MiningWatch Canada (613) 569-3439 or (613) 761-2273 (cell)