Proposed tailings dam expansion would become world’s second largest yet doesn’t automatically require environmental assessment

Wilderness Committee + 21 organizations

səl̓ílwətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh), xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam) and Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) Territories (Vancouver, B.C.) – Today twenty-two organizations sent a letter to Environment and Climate Change Minister George Heyman, calling on him to require an environmental assessment for the Copper Mountain Mine expansion. Copper Mountain Mine, located south of Princeton, B.C. along the Similkameen River and near the US border, is currently Canada’s fourth largest copper mine. Its current operations have never undergone a full environmental assessment. If approved, the Copper Mountain Mine New Ingerbelle Pit expansion would become the world’s second largest tailings dam and would be seven times taller than the tailings that caused the Mount Polley mining disaster in 2014, one of the worst environmental disasters in Canadian history. 

“How is it that the world’s second largest tailings pond could be approved without a fulsome provincial assessment to determine its impacts and risks?” asked Conservation and Policy Campaigner Charlotte Dawe. “An environmental assessment is the very least the B.C. government should do, yet even that is not required under B.C.’s Environmental Assessment Act.” 

The organizations, including David Suzuki Foundation, Canadian Association of Nurses for the Environment and West Coast Environmental Law, argue minister Heyman should require an environmental assessment for the New Ingerbelle Pit expansion. This expansion would see the mine’s tailings pond increase in height by 100 metres, increase in capacity by 70 per cent and would more than double the mine’s permitted discharge into the Similkameen River. 

Additionally, almost 2000 individuals have directly written to Minister Heyman asking for an environmental assessment — if this doesn’t demonstrate a review is in the public interest then what does?

- Charlotte Dawe, Wilderness Committee Conservation and Policy Campaigner

Hudbay, the owner of the mine, has drastically different details in their more recent 2022 expansion plan found on their website then the 2019 version on the government website. The worry is that industries might submit their true expansion plans in incremental phases to avoid assessments under B.C. mining law. If the expansion application was updated to their more recent 2022 expansion plan, it would likely trigger an environmental assessment simply for being over the ore production threshold and disturbance area threshold.

“Companies know the thresholds that trigger environmental assessments so it appears they propose expansions in increments in a way that avoids triggering one,” said Dawe. “The B.C. government must recognize this and take action to close this loophole.” 

Under the B.C. Environmental Assessment Act, the minister can require an environmental assessment for a project if: a review is in the public interest, an Indigenous Nation has requested one, the project has equivalent or greater impacts to other projects that received an environmental assessment or it promotes sustainability by protecting the environment. The letter makes the case all these conditions have been met. 

“Together our organizations represent over a million people in Canada and the U.S. who are worried about the devastating impacts of this expansion and the real threat of a tailings collapse,” said Dawe. “Additionally, almost 2000 individuals have directly written to Minister Heyman asking for an environmental assessment — if this doesn’t demonstrate a review is in the public interest then what does?” 

The expansion is proposed within the area where Lower Similkameen Indian Band and Upper Similkameen Indian Band exercise Aboriginal rights and title. Both Nations have expressed the mine expansion will impact their rights and interests. Lower Similkameen Indian Band has requested the New Ingerbelle Pit expansion receive an Indigenous-led environmental assessment.

“This is a real test to see whether this B.C. government will put their commitments on reconciliation and caring for the environment into action. An environmental assessment is the absolute least they can do when it comes to protecting the environment and people from this ticking time bomb of a mine,” said Dawe.  

For more information, please contact:

  • Charlotte Dawe | Conservation and Policy Campaigner, 1-778-903-3992, [email protected]