Canadian Mines Ministers Meet in Cranbrook: Is B.C.’s competitive advantage weak environmental regulation?

B.C. Mining Law Reform Network

(Cranbrook, B.C.) This week in Cranbrook, B.C. Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources Michelle Mungall is hosting her counterparts from across the country for the annual Energy and Mines Ministers’ Conference. Environmental groups from across the province are questioning the celebration of the conference’s theme of competitiveness and innovation while B.C.’s government won’t address the water pollution flowing from mines around the province.

“B.C.’s outdated mining laws let mining companies get away with polluting our rivers and lakes in ways that wouldn’t be allowed in other places,” said Lars Sander-Green of Wildsight, an environmental group in the Cranbrook area. “Letting mining companies pollute for decades and then leaving the long-term cleanup costs to taxpayers might make B.C. seem more competitive, but we’re really just subsidizing our mining industry at a huge cost to our environment—and future generations.”

Environmentalists point to water pollution from mines like Mount Polley, the Elk Valley coal mines, and the long-abandoned Tulsequah Chief mine as examples of the province’s failure to protect B.C.’s rivers and lakes from mine water pollution.

“We’re only a couple weeks away from the five year deadline for federal charges under the Fisheries Act for the disaster at Mount Polley that sent toxic mine waste downstream to Quesnel Lake,” said Christine McLean of Concerned Citizens of Quesnel Lake. “The province decided not to lay charges, so now it’s up to the federal government to make sure mining companies in B.C. get the message that they can’t take risks with our lakes.”

Thirty-five environmental groups in the province recently launched an effort to reform B.C. mining laws. Key asks for the mining law reform coalition are the need to strengthen regulations to reduce water pollution and the need for mining companies to pay full clean-up bonds and set up a disaster fund.

Just an hour past Cranbrook along Highway 3, Canadian mining giant Teck Resources operates four mountaintop-removal coal mines that are sending selenium pollution—dangerous to fish even at very low concentrations—downstream into the Elk River and Lake Koocanusa.

“Every day, the long-term selenium pollution disaster in the Elk Valley gets worse, but there’s no real long-term plan to clean up once mining stops,” said Sander-Green. “B.C. is letting Teck make big profits from mining coal while locking in many centuries of water pollution.”

The conference comes just a month after all eight senators from B.C.’s four neighbouring states sent a bipartisan letter asking Premier John Horgan to clean up water pollution flowing from B.C. mines into Montana, Alaska, Idaho and Washington. The senators focused on water pollution flowing across the border from the Elk Valley coal mines, from mines in northwestern B.C. into Alaska, and on proposed mining by Imperial Metals—owners of the Mount Polley mine—in the Manning Park donut hole at the headwaters of Washington State’s Skagit River.

“It’s extremely troubling that Imperial Metals, with their terrible track record, is seeking a permit from B.C. to start exploring for minerals in the headwaters of the Skagit River system,” said Joe Foy, Co-Executive Director of the Wilderness Committee. “Our neighbours to the south are rightfully worried about what kind of toxic mine pollution could be coming their way.”

“It’s time for B.C. to do more than talk about competitiveness and innovation in the mining industry and to get serious about fixing our ancient mining laws to protect our environment,” said Sander-Green. “B.C. is still the wild west of mining, where it’s all about corporate profits and letting someone else worry about the pollution. It’s time to clean up B.C. mining.”

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Contact: Lars Sander-Green, Wildsight, [email protected], (250) 427-6274