(Toronto/New York) Today, MiningWatch Canada and concerned shareholders list Nouveau Monde Graphite’s (NYSE:NMG) (TSXV:NOU) top environmental, social and governance (ESG) risks related to its mining and processing projects in Quebec, Canada, for the electric vehicle (EV) battery supply chain.
Our analysis is based on information provided earlier today at the company’s annual shareholder meeting, and is based on a detailed review of recent company and government documentation, media articles, site visits, and meetings with affected community members and Indigenous representatives over the last year.
“Our overall conclusion is that despite the company’s repeated claims to respect the “highest” environmental, social & governance standards, the reality is different,” states Ugo Lapointe, Canada Program Coordinator at MiningWatch Canada. Lapointe insists: “The company risks facing greenwashing backlash without more transparent disclosure of its true impacts and ESG risks.”
- Indigenous Rights. Despite the company’s claim to having ‘positive relationships’ with the Atikamekw Manawan Nation, the reality is that the First Nation has not given its free, prior, and informed consent to the project. It stated earlier this year that “this open pit project is not a ‘green’ project” and that it “has no social licence” to operate. The Nation denounced the recent government approval as “a step backwards in reconciliation.” Community members have recently begun road blockades and onsite demonstrations to show their opposition to the mining project.
- Social Division & Legal Liability. The community remains profoundly divided over the proposed mining project. Polls that the company constantly refers to, to justify its social license are misleading and do not properly account for the cottage and recreational community, which represents 50% of the local population and 51% of the property value (assessed at over $201 million). Representing only 5% of the respondents in those polls, the independent Commission of Inquiry that assessed the project’s risks noted in its 2020 report that the company “underestimated” this community, which is largely opposed to the project and represents a significant social, legal, and financial risk to the company.
- Acid Generating Waste in a Sensitive Touristic Watershed. The low-grade (4.35%) graphite project would produce over 108 million tonnes of tailings and waste rock, equivalent to over 65 tonnes of waste for each tonne of battery-grade graphite produced. The mine waste contains large quantities of acid generating sulphide minerals and other toxic substances. It needs to be safely contained in the heart of an ecologically sensitive and touristic area, next to the world-renowned Mont Tremblant National Park and within the Lac Taureau Regional Parc watershed. While innovative, the effectiveness of the proposed in-cell, dry-stacking method to contain this toxic waste has not yet been proven in a conclusive study, nor has it ever been tried before at this scale and with this type of acidic material in a wet climate. If it fails, the waste could generate acid drainage for centuries to come, cost hundreds of millions of dollars to treat and significantly affect the local environment. Those risks have not been fully costed in the feasibility study.
- Missing Studies to Complete the Environmental Assessment & Permitting. The 2021 Government Decree sets 16 major conditions for the mining project, 10 of which require further environmental studies prior to final approvals, including: on water pollution risks from the acidic mine wastes; on the environmental remediation and financial assurance for the site closure; on the noise and air pollution controls to protect the local population; as well as on the feasibility of ‘an all-electric mine.’ In addition, the company has not yet committed to submit its newly announced anode-graphite processing facility project (located about 200km from the mine site) to the State’s environmental and public consultation regulatory review process.
- Principal Private Investor (Pallinghurst) Affiliated to Tax Havens. According to data from the Paradise Papers and as reported by several media outlets in recent months, the company’s main private shareholder, the Pallinghurst Group, is affiliated with several entities registered in notorious tax havens, including Guernsey, the Cayman Islands, Luxembourg, Delaware, Saint Kitts, and Nevis. Going ‘green’ cannot become a justification for tax injustice: a dollar lost in a tax haven is a dollar that cannot be reinvested in the energy transition. The use of aggressive fiscal strategies to avoid tax payments, legal though they might be, do not constitute best ESG practice.