(Ottawa, Vancouver, Victoria). As the BC mining industry’s Roundup 2013 conference winds down national and regional NGOs are emphatically calling for substantial reforms to the rules the industry operates under. While communications from the industry have focussed on the growth in exploration activity and spun the industry’s potential in a positive light, the reality is there is a growing level of frustration and tension around many projects in the province. Changes are urgently needed to resolve these existing and emerging environmental and social conflicts. In order to stimulate a more sober analysis of the situation, MiningWatch Canada, David Suzuki Foundation, Rivers Without Borders and Friends of Clayoquot Sound are releasing a Top 40 list of mining reforms needed in BC.
An important example of the industry’s failings and the need for reform is Taseko Mines’ New Prosperity project. This project, which does not have the free prior and informed consent of First Nations and which has been unable to obtain environmental approvals for decades, continues to take up time and resources in a second round of environmental assessments. The company’s latest submissions to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency have been harshly criticized by federal and provincial agencies, First Nations and NGOs.
The recent Ross River Dena decision adds to a growing body of law that clearly indicates that BC’s “free entry” mineral claim system is illegal and does not adequately protect Indigenous rights. Establishing third party interests and allowing exploration without a legally enshrined process for obtaining free prior and informed consent of First Nations is a recipe for future conflicts and legal challenges.
Other tenure and land-use issues that need to be addressed include: protection of areas of cultural and environmental sensitivity, renewed land use planning that respects Indigenous rights and the protection of municipalities’ ability to plan and zone within their boundaries.
The precursor to the New Prosperity Project pointed out some of the flaws in BC’s environmental assessment process as it was approved by the province before being rejected by a scathing review by the federal government. Necessary reforms to the environmental assessment process include recognition of First Nations as decision makers, preliminary reviews to flag major issues ahead of significant investments, and the assessment of project sustainability and cumulative effects.
Another example that points to the need for reform is the controversial Tulsequah Chief Mine with its legacy of 50 years of acid mine drainage into the Taku River. Chieftan Metals is pushing to re-open the mine against the opposition of the Taku River Tlingit and conservation groups on both sides of the BC-Alaska border. In addition to problems with the environmental assessment process, Tulsequah Chief highlights the need for changes to the province’s approach to abandoned mine rehabilitation and the importance of careful scrutiny over mine closure.
The list of 40 reforms includes recommendations on Aboriginal rights, mineral tenure, land-use planning, environmental assessment, mine closure, environmental oversight, taxation, jobs and local benefits and abandoned mines.
“Of the three principal mining provinces in Canada, BC is the only one that has not acknowledged the need for substantive reform to the legal framework for mining. Responsible political leadership in BC will mean taking a hard look at the Mineral Tenure Act and environmental assessment process to bring them into the 21st century so that they comply with existing Aborignal law and citizens’ expectations.” – Ramsey Hart, MiningWatch Canada
“BC’s mining framework is built on a foundation that is showing more and more structural cracks. One of the things that the mining sector seeks is to reduce uncertainty, but unless fundamental issues are addressed more environmental and social conflicts are one of the few things we can be sure of.” – John Werring, David Suzuki Foundation
"With the aggressive expansion of mining in BC concerns about damage to wild salmon, water quality and traditional uses of the land are growing across the province and in spilling over into Southeast Alaska. The industry and government needs to respond with changes that ensure mining development does not threaten these important resources.” - Will Patric, Rivers Without Borders
Ramsey Hart, Canada Program Coordinator, MiningWatch Canada, (613) 569-3439, (613) 298-4745 (cell), ramsey[at]miningwatch.ca
John Werring, David Suzuki Foundation, (604) 732-4228 ext. 1245, (604) 306-0517 (cell), jwerring[at]davidsuzuki.org
Will Patric, Executive Director, Rivers Without Borders, (360) 379-2811, will[at]riverswithoutborders.org
Link: Top 40 Mining Reforms