Mining developments in Ontario currently enjoy a rare privilege in Canada – they are not subject to the provincial environmental assessment (EA) process. This is thanks to a “Declaration Order” from the Minister of the Environment making the transfer of public mineral resources to private leases exempt from the Environmental Assessment Act. The Order has just been renewed for another three years.
This exemption was first granted in 2002 and was meant to be a temporary measure to allow the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines (MNDM) time to develop its approach to conducting environmental assessments of mining projects. As the MNDM failed to meet its commitments under the original exemption, it has had to request four extensions, with the latest request made on January 21st of this year. There is little evidence the Ministry has even attempted to meet the conditions of the previous exemption orders.
On June 4th, 2009, John Gerretsen, Ontario’s Minister of the Environment, decided to grant a fourth, and supposedly final, extension – until December 2012. Having submitted comments on MNDM's latest request for an extension, MiningWatch was eventually notified of this decision on June 10th.
The pretext of the current extension request is the ongoing process to modernize the Ontario Mining Act. MNDM has argued that it needed to wait for the revisions to the act were finalised before moving ahead with its environmental assessment process. The proposed amendments to the Act, Bill 173, do not even mention environmental assessment; in fact, the word 'environment' only appears once in the 103 proposed amendments.
The decision is “disappointing but not surprising” says Ramsey Hart of MiningWatch Canada. “We were worried that it might go this way and though we made a very strong argument for the extension not to be granted, we also made some recommendations for conditions on an extension should one be granted. There is some small satisfaction in the fact that some of these conditions have been applied.”
The conditions applied to the extension are that the MNDM submit a revised environmental assessment strategy within 90 days of the completion of the Mining Act modernization process; include timelines for implementation before the end of this extension; and submit bi-annual progress reports.
In his comments on the MNDM's latest request for an extension, Hart wrote that "Mining uses up valuable non-renewable resources, generates more waste than any other industrial sector, is highly energy intensive, [and] can result in long-term liabilities for ongoing containment and treatment of wastes.... [it] is clearly the kind of activity that should be subject to rigorous, transparent and comprehensive environmental assessment."
Contact: Ramsey Hart, Canada Program Coordinator, MiningWatch Canada
email: [email protected]
office: (613) 569-3439
mobile: (613) 614-9937