Posted by Jacob Resneck, CoastAlaska | Sep 25, 2019
The province of British Columbia is taking public input on ways to reform its mining regulations. The ministry says it’s partially in response to the Mount Polley mine disaster.
The tailings dam failure in 2014 was closely watched in Alaska due to fears of a similar breach in one of the region’s many mines in the transboundary watershed.
The Narwhal, an online environmental magazine based in the province’s capital, has reported on criticism of B.C.’s mining sector extensively.
CoastAlaska’s Jacob Resneck spoke with the The Narwhal’s managing editor Carol Linnitt in Victoria, B.C. about the province’s latest pledge to reform.
Jacob Resneck: Are these kind of reforms, the types of things that critics of some of the mining practices in British Columbia have been asking for?
Carol Linnitt: You know, on paper, these recommendations look good. But as is always the case with these kinds of, of policy reviews, the devil’s always in the details. And there’s been a lot of pressure on the province to basically have a more independent compliance and enforcement regime for mines. And that’s another thing that they’re talking about doing here. In these proposed amendments.
Of course, they’re not giving any specifics. It’s just, you know, this is a bullet point list of three things. So we–
JR: Did I hear you correctly, Carol? I had thought this was a summary, that, there’s actually more details than have been offered–
CL: They’ve just said, the ministry is proposing the following amendments; they give like a three-point bullet list. And then they’ve asked people to fill out a survey.
The reform proposals are limited to a brief summary.JR: One of the things that I didn’t see in this summary is the issue of financial assurances. In the state of Alaska, if you want to get a mine permitted, you have to post a bond, just to make sure — in case something catastrophic happens — or the company runs out of money.
CL: You’ve hit the nail on the head; that is, without a doubt the biggest elephant-in-the-room when it comes to mining in British Columbia. And it’s actually a pretty unsexy topic. It’s not necessarily very clear to the public what’s going on when you start talking about unsecured financial cleanup liabilities, it’s like, what are you even talking about? But to drive the point home, for example, there’s a Vancouver-based mining company called Teck Resources, Ltd. They operate in B.C. and they also operate in Alaska.
In Alaska, they have one mine there, and the state government required them to provide the full security of the estimated reclamation costs, which were $562 million. And that same company, which operates numerous mine in B.C. has unsecured reclamation costs of $700 million.
Carol Linnitt is managing editor and a co-founder of The Narwhal, a nonprofit online magazine that covers Canada’s ecology.
JR: We can’t talk about transboundary mining without talking about Mount Polley. Now, it’s not technically on a transboundary system. But bring us up to date since its tailings dam collapsed in 2014.
CL: I’m glad you brought Mount Polley up. And I do think that what happened at that mine and and watching how things unfolded in the aftermath has been a bit of a test case for some of these big mines on the border with Alaska.
So yeah, in 2014, a catastrophic collapse of a tailings pond, the equivalent of 10,000 Olympic sized swimming pools of mining waste flooded into Quennell Lake, a source of drinking water. And this spill was so big, it took 12 hours to spill — it’s just incredible. The Mount Polley mine is owned by Imperial Metals, and they’ve come across hard financial times; they’re on the brink of bankruptcy. We’ve reported on what that actually looks like. And the company just actually sold off a 70% stake of one of its major mines on the border with Alaska, the Red Chris Mine to an Australian company called Newcrest mining.
So here this this is the problem with not having those financial securities established before the fact is that companies hit on financial hard times, and then they just abandon these mines and they abandon those, those financial liabilities and cleanup costs reclamation cost to taxpayers and some of these mines, they require permanent water treatment facilities like in perpetuity forever — and those are very expensive.
So looking at the Red Chris Mine on the border with Alaska, the same company built that same mine but on a way larger scale with a way bigger tailings pond. And now they’re indicating to the world that they’re actually not capable of managing that mine and they want out.
So it’s, it’s worrisome and a lot of people, they still want to talk about the Mount Polley mine because it was basically an example of how companies are not responsible for their liability and basically the environmental mess that they’re creating in this massive resource extraction project from the get-go and it shows exactly how they can slip out of other forms of responsibility, including penalties and fines and cleanup responsibilities all throughout the process.
By Matthew Brown | AP
BILLINGS, Mont. — U.S. government scientists found high levels of pollution that can be toxic to fish, aquatic insects and the birds that feed on them in a river that flows into Montana and Idaho from a coal mining region of Canada, officials said Monday.
Elevated levels of selenium were found in fish and fish eggs from the Kootenai River downstream of Lake Koocanusa.
The lake straddles the Canada border in northwestern Montana and southern British Columbia, and feeds into the Kootenai before the water flows downstream to Idaho.
Selenium is a naturally occurring mineral that can be released into rivers and streams during surface mining. It was absent from water samples taken from tributaries of the Kootenai downstream of the lake, indicating it’s coming from mining-related sources upstream, Environmental Protection Agency hydrologist Jason Gildea said.
No human health impacts were expected from the levels detected in the Kootenai.
High levels of selenium can kill animals and cause them reproductive problems. Animals that lay eggs are most at risk because the pollution accumulates in eggs.
Kent Karemaker, a spokesman for British Columbia’s mining agency, said he had not seen the pollution study and could not immediately offer a response. Regulators from the province participate in a cross-border monitoring group with their counterparts from Montana.
Concern about pollution from mines in British Columbia has been building for years.
U.S. senators from Alaska, Montana, Idaho and Washington state said in a June letter to British Columbia’s leader that Canadian regulators need to do more to prevent mining waste from fouling downstream U.S. waterways.
In July, representatives of towns and tribes in the region said the pollution threatens the livelihoods of those who depend on fishing and other forms of recreation.
Selenium concentrations in water entering Lake Koocanusa have been increasing for decades, but the pollution had not previously been found at high levels in the Kootenai River.
“We weren’t expecting to find elevated levels” in the river’s fish, Gildea said. “To see this result indicates that something is going on and we’re a little concerned about it.”
Earlier studies showed the pollution in Lake Koocanusa comes coal mining in the Elk Valley of British Columbia.
The latest findings come from a joint study by researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey, EPA, Kootenai Tribe of Idaho and wildlife agencies in the Montana and Idaho. More than 140 fish were evaluated, and high levels of selenium were found in six mountain whitefish and one redside shiner.
Elevated levels of mercury were found in three fish sampled, but Gildea said that most likely was deposited by air pollution and not mining.
Further studies are needed but whether they happen will depend on funding, said Ayn Schmit, an EPA water policy adviser.
Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
The Canadian Press
Published Sunday, September 22, 2019 3:49PM PDT
VICTORIA - The British Columbia government is asking for public feedback on proposed changes to the Mines Act that it says will improve regulation and oversight of the mining sector.
The Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources says in a news release it's proposing to formally separate authorizations and permitting from enforcement and auditing powers.
It's also suggesting establishing an independent oversight unit with an auditing function and enhancing compliance and enforcement.
The ministry says a $20-million boost in this year's budget allowed it to create a new mines health, safety and enforcement division.
Members of the public can comment on the proposed amendments through an online survey, email or mail before Oct. 25.
Minister Michelle Mungall says her government's No. 1 priority for mining is safety for workers, the environment and communities.
“We've invested $20 million over three years to hire more inspectors on the ground and ensure more frequent inspections,” she says.
“The feedback that we receive from British Columbians will be critical for informing how we improve our mining laws and ensure that mining in B.C. is done right.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 21, 2019.
National News | September 13, 2019 by Laurie Hamelin
**see original article for video and photos
The Mount Polley mining disaster was one of the worst environmental disasters in Canadian history.
Though at fault, five years later the mining company responsible has still not faced any fines or charges.
Bev Sellars, then-chief of Xat’sull First Nation, says she feels helpless to do anything about the tragedy that has impacted her land and people forever.
Sellars recalls the day when 24 million cubic meters of mining waste spewed into waterways within her traditional territory.
“Companies come in, do their damage and are just allowed to walk away,” she said, “and that has to stop.”
Bev Sellars doesn’t believe justice will ever be served for the 2014 Mount Polley mining disaster.
A panel of experts found the company at fault due to an unstable foundation.
Last month marked the five-year anniversary of the tailings pond breach. It also marked the deadline for government to fine the company that operates the gold and copper mine, Imperial Metals.
Sellars said she isn’t holding her breath waiting for justice.
“It’s wrong. It’s so wrong on so many levels,” she said.
‘This isn’t finished’: 5 years after the Mount Polley disaster, still no charges
Sellars tried to file private charges in 2017, just days after the B.C. government announced charges would not be laid.
She claimed the mining company contravened the Environmental Management Act and Mines Act.
But after reviewing her case, the B.C. Prosecution Services did not approve the charges.
“The province of B.C. should have allowed me to go ahead with my private charges against Mount Polley, but they didn’t,” said Sellars.
In July APTN News visited the disaster area below the tailings pond at Hazeltine Creek.
What looks like a valley of destruction at first glance is actually the result of millions of dollars worth of reclamation work paid by Imperial Metals.
The land at Hazeltine Creek just below the Mount Polley tailings pond.
“People from the area who are familiar with the forestry industry and reforestation of cut blocks know that the trees do not grow back overnight, and that full recovery will take some time,” says C.D. ‘Lyn Anglin.
Anglin was Imperial Metals’ chief scientific officer responsible for research and providing guidance for spill response.
“Including all of the environmental and human health impact and risk assessment studies, the ongoing environmental monitoring, and the environmental remediation work completed to date, the company has spent about $70 million on their response to the spill,” she said.
“This does not include the costs of the repair work on the tailings storage facility.”
But Allen Edzerza from the B.C. First Nations Energy and Mining Council says Imperial’s work so far isn’t enough.
“There should have been more done, there should be a long term plan put in place that tracks to see what the impact of the chemicals in the environmental system is and see if it’s affecting the fish and wildlife populations,” said Edzerza.
Allen Edzerza of the B.C. First Nations Energy and Mining Council says Imperial Metals hasn’t done enough to make up for the destruction it has caused to the area.
The same panel of experts that reviewed the Mount Polley breach also found that under current regulations the province can expect two tailings dam failures each decade.
Despite B.C.’s polluter-pays policy, mining companies don’t have to put up full cleaning costs as a deposit.
There’s also no protection against companies going bankrupt.
“What we have seen in the past is large companies, as the mine gets towards the last 10 years of its life, they like to sell out those projects and then take their reclamation deposit and they leave,” Edzerza explained, “and then you have a smaller company now operating these mines.”
In most instances, he continued, those companies don’t have the resources to do full restoration.
The B.C. First Nations Energy and Mining Council released a report in July urging the government to change its mining laws to protect taxpayers from footing the bill for future accidents.
Edzerza said other mining laws need updating, too, like B.C.s Free Entry Mining System, which he said violates the principle of free, prior and informed consent, which is protected under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
“Right now you can stake on-line from anywhere in the world,” said Edzerza.
“You don’t even have to come to British Columbia. You don’t have to know what nation’s territory you are in, you don’t have to know the law,” he continued. “You just need to get this certificate, stake a claim and by law the province has to register it. Once a claim is registered the miner has an interest in that land which could be infringing Aboriginal title and rights.”
To prove how easy it is to stake a claim, in 2017 Sellars did just that on the Former Mining Minister Bill Bennett’s home property.
She was the chair of the group First Nations Women Advocating Responsible Mining at the time.
“So they come in–the government along with the resource companies–and just extract, extract, extract,” she said. “And so what I did is I went and I staked Bill Bennet’s private property.”
Sellars said it cost her less than $200 to stake the claim.
She said the policy is outdated and has been around since the gold rush.
“It’s still the same — it hasn’t changed and it has to change,” she said.
“People come in and they disregard Indigenous territories. They have no right to claim our land.”
In a statement to APTN News, the B.C. government confirmed it is working on a reclamation security policy. It says it has also begun pre-engagement on a review of the Mineral Tenure Act and will continue to work with Indigenous nations and the First Nations Energy and Mining Council.
Sellars is hopeful, but said she won’t believe it until she’s see it.
“They have no choice but to change things. It’s an absolute requirement.”
SALMON BEYOND BORDERS is a campaign driven by sport and commercial fishermen, community leaders, tourism and recreation business owners and concerned citizens, in collaboration with Tribes and First Nations, united across the Alaska/British Columbia border to defend and sustain our transboundary rivers, jobs and way of life.
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