Nearly a year after the deadly Brumadinho collapse, a majority of mining firms have failed to disclose information about their waste dams
Alistair MacDonald and Kim Mackrael
Dec. 18, 2019 5:30 am ET
Published by The Wall Street Journal
Less than half of the world’s larger miners have released safety and environmental details about their mine-waste dams, showing the mixed success of investors’ demands for greater transparency after the deadly Brumadinho dam collapse in Brazil.
In January, 270 people died following the collapse of a tailings dam owned by Brazil’s Vale SA. The incident prompted a coalition of investors who manage more than $13 trillion to ask 726 companies in the mining and oil-sands business to disclose information on their dams.
Nearly 55% of companies hadn’t delivered as of last month, the Church of England said. While some of the largest miners—including Vale, BHP Ltd. and Anglo American PLC—have disclosed their information, others have yet to do so.
Investors are increasingly examining ethical issues when looking at mining.
Vale's tailings dam in Brumadinho earlier this month. PHOTO: WASHINGTON ALVES/REUTERS“Not disclosing is unacceptable and poses a very real risk to our investment,” said John Howchin, who analyzes ethical issues for Sweden’s state pension funds, which led the group demanding more transparency alongside the Church of England Pensions Board.
Tailings risk has become another turn-off for an investment community that has largely shunned the mining sector since the collapse of the commodity bubble in 2011.
Tailings, the waste material from extracting valuable minerals, are often held for decades behind dams that can be risky if they are poorly constructed, ill-maintained or filled with too much waste. Major failures of tailings dams have become more frequent as mining companies ramp up production to meet the world’s growing demand for commodities.
The large number of funds involved in the survey—coupled with the lack of comprehensive, state-compiled databases on tailings—has drawn attention to the coalition’s effort and investors’ increasing engagement on environmental issues.
Norilsk Nickel, one of world’s most valuable miners with a market capitalization of roughly $43 billion, hasn’t publicly released details on its tailings dams. In 2016, heavy rainfall caused a Norilsk Nickel tailings dam in northern Russia to overflow, coloring a local river red.
Polluted water overflowed a Norilsk Nickel tailings dam in northern Russia in 2016.
A spokeswoman for the Moscow-based company said it hadn’t received a request from the coalition but would be happy to cooperate. The Church of England said it emailed requests to the chief executives and investor relations departments at the 726 companies. If the email to investor relations bounced back, it would go to the CEO and staff in sustainability or engineering departments.
Miners of potash and phosphate—minerals used mainly in fertilizers—have been slow to disclose. Canada-based Nutrien Ltd. , a major producer valued at around $27 billion, sent basic information on its mine-waste facilities but didn’t answer key questions such as whether the dams have had stability issues.
Nutrien said late last month that it had added resources that would allow it complete the survey. A company spokesman initially said some questions were left unanswered because the main byproduct of potash mining is salt, viewed as less dangerous in a spill, and because Nutrien’s mines in Saskatchewan aren’t close to major water bodies or populated areas.
Satellite images show two of the company’s six Saskatchewan mines are located a few miles from residential communities and one neighbors a bird-breeding area. A tailings pond at the company’s North Carolina phosphate mine is located next to the Pamlico River, which feeds into the state’s largest estuary.
At least two tailings facilities owned by Nutrien have leaked or failed in the past, public records show. That includes a potash mine near Vanscoy, Saskatchewan, that reported a failure at its tailings pile in a 2014 technical report. Also that year, the company, then called Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan, revealed to a local broadcaster that it had discovered tears in a liner meant to contain salt water tailings at a site in New Brunswick, Canada.
The Nutrien spokesman said the company has never had a dam failure result in a release of salt water beyond its tailings management areas. He said any seepage of brine from the New Brunswick tailings pond would have been small and captured by the site’s remedial systems
The Brumadinho tailings dam disaster in Brazil has killed at least 179 people, with hundreds more missing and feared dead. This video shows the moment the disaster began. Israel Chemicals Ltd. is among other potash and phosphate miners that haven’t responded to the investor group’s survey. A spokesman said the original request for tailings data hadn’t reached the relevant people at the organization.
“Now that you have brought this issue to our knowledge, the company has forwarded it to the relevant person who will take care of it immediately,” the spokesman said.
In 2017, Israel Chemicals reported that the partial collapse of a subsidiary’s dike in Israel released 100,000 cubic meters of acidic wastewater that flowed into a nearby nature reserve. The wastewater resulted from the production of phosphate fertilizer.
The spokesman said the company worked to clean up the wastewater spill and is developing stronger and more-stable storage facilities for its phosphate fertilizer tailings.
A number of smaller Western-based miners also haven’t disclosed information on their tailings dams.
Vancouver-based Imperial Metals Corp. is not on record—even though it is tied to what is considered one of Canada’s worst environmental catastrophes. In 2014, a British Columbia dam owned by the company burst, sending some 25 million cubic meters of mining waste pouring into a pair of glacial lakes
A representative for Imperial Metals said the company’s CEO had received the request but declined further comment.
Large Chinese miners such as Jiangxi Copper Co. , Zijin Mining Group Co. and Zhongjin Gold Corp. also haven’t shared information with the investor coalition. None of the three replied to emails seeking comment.
In China, there are 8,869 documented tailings dams, of which 16% are within about half a mile of a residential area, school or hospital, according to research led by the School of University of Science and Technology in Beijing.
Karen Hudson-Edwards, a mining specialist at Britain’s University of Exeter, said the actual number in China is estimated at around 12,000 dams and there is little transparency on tailings risk in the country.
There have been at least 12 serious tailings-dam accidents in China since the 1960s, with one in 2008 killing 277 people, according to the World Information Service on Energy, a Netherlands-based nonprofit.
Write to Alistair MacDonald at email@example.com and Kim Mackrael at firstname.lastname@example.org
By Evan Bush, Seattle Times staff reporter Dec. 4, 2019
Amid an international dispute, British Columbia’s government announced Wednesday that it will no longer allow timber sales in the Skagit River’s headwaters.
The decision could intensify pressure over a Canadian company’s pending permit to begin exploratory mining in the area, which conservationists view as a bigger threat to the river’s ecology.
Last year, loggers built roads and clear-cut several large swaths of forest in the headwaters, which drain into the Skagit River and eventually flow through Washington state to Puget Sound.
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan cried foul, writing to B.C. officials with “grave concern” about water quality and environmental degradation. The Skagit is a top producer of salmon for Puget Sound, it is home to endangered bull trout and its waters churn hydropower dams to bring Seattle much of its electricity.
After Durkan’s protests, B.C. officials last summer put future logging plans on hold. On Wednesday, they committed to protect the area from logging, at least.
“Timber harvesting under this license has ended. No future licenses will be awarded,” said Doug Donaldson, the minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development in British Columbia.
The decision by the B.C. government could raise negotiating stakes with Imperial Metals, a Canadian mining company that has applied to perform exploratory drilling on its mineral tenures there. Conservationists fear a potential spill of mining waste or byproduct would imperil the Skagit River ecosystem and devastate struggling salmon species.
The conservationists hope to one day incorporate the unprotected land, which is often called the “donut hole,” into the Manning and Skagit provincial parks that surround it. That’s not possible until the mining rights are sorted out.
“We’ve been working to get logging banned in the area for 15 years,” said Joe Foy, the Protected Areas Campaigner for the Wilderness Committee, a Canadian environmental group. “This is a big move forward for us, but we remain nervous until the tenure is removed and the area is legislated as protected.”
Negotiations over the mining rights are ongoing, according to Thomas Curley, a Canadian appointee to the Skagit Environmental Endowment Commission (SEEC), an organization created by treaty to settle prior disputes over the landscape.
Controversy over the Skagit’s headwaters kicked off in 1937 when the city of Seattle began construction of the Ross Dam on the river. The dam created a reservoir, Ross Lake, that stretches into Canada. For years, the city considered building the dam higher and expanding the reservoir farther into Canada, flooding some old-growth forestland.
Environmentalists protested. B.C. and Seattle eventually came to an agreement in 1984. Seattle agreed not to raise the dam. The Canadians promised to provide cheap hydropower to Seattle through 2065. The U.S. and Canada signed a treaty over the deal.
The agreement also created SEEC. Seattle’s mayor and B.C.’s premier each appoint four members to the commission, which works to conserve the watershed, enhance recreation and acquire timber and mineral rights.
In March, Imperial Metals applied for an exploratory mining permit in the donut hole.
The company applied to drill for as many as five years, according to project documents. Imperial Metals would extend a recently created logging road, set up trenches and build settling ponds for exploratory drilling in an area believed to have gold and copper. Metals, particularly copper, are toxic to salmon.
Imperial Metals saw an environmental disaster at its Mount Polley mine in British Columbia in 2014, when a dam there failed and allowed billions of gallons of gold- and copper-mining waste to flood into local waterways.
The B.C. government has yet to make a decision on whether to allow exploration.
Durkan said the city would continue to advocate “to fully protect the Upper Skagit Watershed from mining exploration … “
The application sparked outcry from U.S. officials, tribes and environmental groups. Nine Democratic members of Washington state’s congressional delegation called for the U.S. Department of State to intervene.
U.S. officials have pressured British Columbia over mining regulations because toxics and mining waste can flow downstream and into the U.S.
A bipartisan group of eight Western U.S. senators in June wrote to British Columbia Premier John Horgan, saying they “remain concerned about the lack of oversight of Canadian mining projects near multiple transboundary rivers.”
Evan Bush: 206-464-2253 or email@example.com; on Twitter: @EvanBush.
‘When are they going to ensure the polluter pays?’: proposed B.C. mining reforms don’t go far enough
A plan to update the province’s antiquated Mines Act will bring more independent oversight of mines but doesn’t address lax regulations that leave responsibility for clean-up costs, such as in the Mount Polley mine disaster, in the hands of taxpayers
Oct 25, 2019 9 min read
Proposed reforms to B.C.’s mining act are a positive step but taxpayers are still on the hook for costly clean-up costs, according to Calvin Sandborn, legal director of the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Centre.
Sandborn, who has been at the forefront of efforts to reform B.C.’s antiquated mining laws, said while the proposed changes to B.C.’s mining regime address a lack of independent oversight of the industry, they don’t tackle the long laundry list of problems associated with B.C.’s growing mining industry.
That’s because the proposed mining reforms, released last month and now open for public comment, deal only with the Mines Act and not the Mineral Tenure Act, which allows mining claims to be staked by nearly anyone in the world who has access to a computer, even if those claims lie within Indigenous traditional territory or sensitive ecosystems.
The suggested changes also don’t address ballooning liabilities associated with mining operations. The Environmental Law Centre has pegged the liability costs for old mines in B.C. at $1 billion, while a report from watchdog group MiningWatch Canada estimated the figure to be closer to $3 billion.
“You need to have a guarantee that, when the mine closes up, it’s not going to leave the long-term problems that we’ve seen all over the province,” Sandborn told The Narwhal
“When are they going to ensure the polluter pays rather than taxpayers picking up the tab? The history of mining in B.C. has been that companies come in and get the quick profit and just leave the cost to the taxpayers.”
This provincial map shows the location of selected major exploration projects, selected proposed mines and mines producing metal, coal and industrial minerals in 2018. Photo: British Columbia Geological Survey
B.C.’s regulation of mining under fire since Mount Polley Mine disaster
Regulation of B.C.’s mining industry has been under fire, both in Canada and internationally, since the 2014 Mount Polley disaster saw 24 billion litres of contaminated mining waste flow into waterways around Quesnel Lake and Hazeltine Creek after a tailings dam collapse.
Public anger grew when no charges were laid against Imperial Metals even though a panel of experts found the company at fault due to an unstable foundation. Taxpayers ended up shouldering $40 million in cleanup costs and, in 2017, the company was given permission to discharge mine waste directly into Quesnel Lake.
The Mount Polley dam collapse led to fears in Alaska of similar disasters at Canadian mines along the border above prime salmon-bearing rivers. Alaskans are also dealing with pollution from the abandoned Tulsequah Chief mine, on the Canadian side of the border, close to the salmon-rich Taku River.
The suggested reforms would separate mining permitting powers from inspection and enforcement duties to alleviate an apparent conflict of interest.
A new statutory decision-maker would be responsible for permitting, while health, safety and enforcement responsibilities would remain with the Chief Inspector of Mines.
The reforms also include the creation of a new oversight body, an Audit Unit, to perform independent mine inspections and beef up the capacity of staff with the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources to hold mines accountable for health and environmental safety.
New powers for the ministry would give inspectors and auditors the authority to bring equipment or people to mine sites when needed, including technical experts and representatives from Indigenous communities.
Earlier this year, the Environmental Law Centre joined more than 30 mining advocacy and legal organizations earlier this year in calling for sweeping changes to B.C.’s mining laws.
The 69 detailed changes recommended by those groups include expanding civil liability for companies to ensure they pay for pollution, mandating clear risk-based inspection policies for all mines including closed and abandoned sites and requirements for independent analysis of water treatment systems that take into account the full long-term costs of a mine’s lifecycle.
Sandborn said it is important to separate regulation from granting mining rights, “so you don’t have the mine promoter agency regulating people they have lured to the province.”
But it’s unclear how effective the province’s proposed changes will be at separating promotion and enforcement, Sandborn said.
“It’s not as separate as it is in some jurisdictions where it is different agencies, like Alaska and Ontario. … It’s somewhat of a response to the very fundamental problem the Auditor General pointed out, but we’ll see how separate those agencies end up being.”
In 2016, Carol Bellringer, B.C.’s auditor general delivered a damning report that concluded the province is not properly prepared to protect the environment from the mining industry. Bellringer found that a major problem is mining companies do not post enough security deposits to cover potential reclamation costs if a firm defaults. She estimated the fund is short more than $1 billion.
Sandborn said he is surprised that, after all the bad publicity, the government is not quickly bringing in effective reforms that look after taxpayers’ interests.
“This is a small step, but my bigger worry, from what I hear within government, is they’re going to blow it on the big issues.”
The government has boosted the budget of the mines ministry by $20 million over three years to hire more inspectors and conduct more inspections. Talks are being held with industry, Indigenous communities and non-governmental organizations about changes to the Mineral Tenure Act, but more consultation is needed, according to government documents.
Changes to the Mineral Tenure Act, which the reforms do not touch, are essential to stopping mineral claims arbitrarily overriding land use plans that have been put together by stakeholders agreeing on the best use of different areas, Sandborn said.
“Mining claims can go in on Indigenous territories and cultural sites and sensitive watersheds,” he pointed out.
An updated policy for mine reclamation securities is expected later this year, with the presumed aim of ensuring clean-up costs are covered if a mining company fails to live up to its obligations.
In Alaska, mining companies are required to provide 100 per cent security upfront before a mine is permitted to operate. B.C.’s regulations are far laxer.
For instance, Canadian mining giant Teck Resources was required to pay full security for an estimated $560 million in reclamation costs for its Alaskan mine. Teck’s five B.C. mines, which have been plagued with selenium pollution problems, have unsecured reclamation costs of $700 million dollars in total.
Sandborn said he is getting troubling signals that the B.C. government may not join other jurisdictions such as Quebec and Alaska in requiring 100 per cent bonding.
“Proposals I have seen that were being floated around in the ministry were saying that we would give bonding credit for rocks in the ground. If there were potential minerals in the ground that could be applied to the bond, which is an absolutely bizarre notion that would be absolutely unacceptable and unenforceable,” Sandborn said.
Meanwhile, controversy continues to boil over Taseko Mines’ repeated attempts to explore for copper and gold on sacred land within Tsilhqot’in traditional territory, despite the unwavering opposition of Tsilhqot’in National Government. The New Prosperity Mine was twice rejected by the federal government, but granted an exploration permit by the province’s former BC Liberal government.
In other disputes, Imperial Metals, the same company responsible for the Mount Polley disaster, wants to drill in the Skagit headwaters, adjacent to Manning Park, angering groups in Canada and the U.S, who, again point to B.C.’s poor regulation of the mining industry.
A hiker on Silverdaisy Peak in the area known as the ‘Doughnut Hole’ in the headwaters of the Skagit River. In 1996, Skagit Valley was given a provincial park designation, merging the area with Manning Park, but the middle was left out because of mineral claims that have existed since the 1930s, creating the area known as the ‘Doughnut Hole,’ now the subject of an application for a mining exploration permit by Imperial Metals. Photo: Wilderness Committee
Clock is ticking for public input
Jill Weitz, campaigner with Salmon Beyond Borders, an Alaskan-based group advocating for the protection of transboundary watersheds, said she commends the province for soliciting public comment. But there is a lack of clarity within the process, she said.
“The province doesn’t do a good job in outlining how this will become a part of a bigger, broader process to update B.C.’s archaic mining laws,” Weitz old The Narwhal.
The cutoff for British Columbians to have their say on provincial mining regulations is Friday, October 25.
There is still time to fill out a survey or email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written submissions will be posted publicly, making it simple to see whether the government has received an earful on needed changes.
In an emailed statement to The Narwhal, the mining ministry said all feedback received will be considered, including in any future legislative, regulatory or policy changes. The ministry will also release a “What We Heard Report” summarizing the overall feedback.
“The intention is for government to introduce the Bill into the Legislature in 2020 should it wish to do so,” the ministry said.
A minister said the legislation would not effectively give indigenous peoples the power to stop resource development projects on their traditional lands.
The Canadian Press
Dirk MeissnerOctober 23, 2019
7:43 PM EDT
October 24, 2019
9:27 AM EDT
VICTORIA — British Columbia is set to become the first province to introduce human rights legislation to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which would mandate the government to bring provincial laws and policies into harmony with its aims.
The legislation is expected to be introduced on Thursday and is bound to raise questions about the potential impact on the way the province is governed, but Indigenous leaders, academics and members of B.C.’s New Democrat government say it will ensure Indigenous Peoples are full participants in all aspects of the province.
“This is about recognizing human rights applied to Indigenous Peoples and it’s something that governments of all stripes have not done before, despite the fact it’s in the Constitution of Canada,” Scott Fraser, the province’s minister of Indigenous relations and reconciliation, said Wednesday.
He said the legislation is British Columbia’s version of a federal bill that died on the Senate order paper when Parliament adjourned for Monday’s election.
The declaration was adopted by the General Assembly of the UN in 2007 after 20 years of debate, although Canada was originally one of four countries that voted against it. Among other things, the declaration says Indigenous Peoples have the right to self-determination, which means they can determine their political status and pursue economic, social and cultural development.
This is about recognizing human rights applied to Indigenous Peoples and it's something that governments of all stripes have not done before, despite the fact it's in the Constitution of Canada
The NDP has made reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples and the implementation of the declaration a top priority since it formed a government in 2017. The mandate letter for each member of Premier John Horgan’s cabinet says ministers are responsible for bringing the principles of the declaration into action in B.C.
“I’ve been all over the place meeting with industry, meeting with stakeholders, meeting with government, meeting with NGO’s, meeting with labour,” said Fraser. “What we’re talking about is working with First Nations in a different way, from the beginning of projects. Not working together and ignoring that rights exist almost guarantees disagreement.”
He said the legislation will not effectively give Indigenous Peoples the power to stop resource development projects on their traditional lands.
“There’s no veto in the 46 articles in the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and there’s none contemplated with the legislation,” Fraser said.
The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled in several cases in B.C. that Indigenous Peoples must be consulted about development projects on their lands. Several First Nations continue to challenge the federal government’s expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline project from northern Alberta to B.C.’s coast.
Grand Chief Ed John of the First Nations Summit, one of B.C.’s largest Indigenous organizations, said the legislation will redefine, reset and restructure historical relations between B.C. and Aboriginal Peoples.
“It’s a milestone in Indigenous, state relations,” he said.
John also rejected concerns that the legislation would grant Indigenous Peoples a veto on resource development.
“It’s a go-to thing for those who want to run (it) down and keep the status quo in place,” he said.
Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, a law professor at the University of British Columbia, said the issue of free, prior and informed consent is not new because courts have ruled on numerous occasions that governments and resource developers must consult with Indigenous groups about projects on their lands.
Turpel-Lafond, who provided legal advice to Indigenous groups that helped develop the B.C. legislation, said governments can still approve projects despite opposition but the process must involve consultation with Indigenous Peoples.
“If you want to develop a new mine, for instance, you’ve got to work with First Nations,” she said. “The key to this legislation is a new pathway. What B.C. is going to have is a way of doing business that’s going to conform to what’s required, by what’s already in our law. But we’re going to make it clear across the board.”
Turpel-Lafond, a former Saskatchewan judge, said the legislation looks to a more equal future.
“I do think that in the history of B.C. this will be a turning point,” she said. “It’s a major shift. I think we’ll lead Canada and possibly lead the world.”
Prof. Jean Paul Restoule, chairman of the department of Indigenous education at the University of Victoria, said the legislation is long overdue, considering the relationship between Indigenous Peoples and governments has been decidedly one sided.
“The whole declaration is really about recognizing the full human rights and collective rights of Indigenous people,” he said. “To me the UN declaration represents Indigenous community hopes and aspirations across the whole globe.”
DERRICK PENNER, Vancouver Sun
Updated: October 24, 2019
"Most simply put, it’s about coming together as governments, as people seeking to find common ground,” said Terry Teegee, Regional Chief for the Assembly of First Nations in B.C.
B.C. made history Thursday as the first province in Canada to introduce legislation aimed at adopting the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which left local First Nations and industry hopeful for an improvement to the status quo.
The legislation, introduced by Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Scott Fraser, mandates that government bring its laws and policies into harmony with the aims of the declaration, often referred to by its acronym, UNDRIP.
On the order paper as Bill 41, the legislation doesn’t set out a timeline for completion, but Fraser said it “is about ending discrimination and conflict in our province, and instead ensuring more economic justice and fairness.”
“Let’s make history,” he told the legislature Thursday, in front of an audience that included leaders from the First Nations Leadership Council.
There will be those who find any change difficult “because they’ve grown accustomed to the status quo,” said Indigenous leader Bob Chamberlin, but they shouldn’t fear UNDRIP’s principle of Aboriginal consent and shared decision-making for resource development.
STORY CONTINUES BELOW
“Right now, we essentially have one-size-fits-all consultation, which doesn’t work,” said Chamberlin, a former first vice-president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs and recent unsuccessful NDP candidate on Vancouver Island in the federal election. “If it worked, we wouldn’t be in the courts (with) everything being dragged out.”
UNDRIP requires governments to obtain “free and informed consent” from Indigenous groups before approving any project affecting their lands or resources, but Fraser said that doesn’t equate to a veto over development.
B.C. Premier John Horgan echoed Fraser, stating that neither the legislation nor the UN declaration itself includes language that would grant a veto over resource projects. For industry, the proof of success on that point will have to come from implementation, said Greg D’Avignon, CEO of the Business Council of B.C.
“Whenever you bring something new in, there is always a difference in perception and interpretation of what it is and what it isn’t, D’Avignon said. “Government has been clear today that this is not a veto and that they retain their right for decision-making and we will hold them to that obligation.”
Indigenous leaders addressed the concern in speeches to the legislature.
“Some people will oppose this law because of their fears about what an era of mutual consent means,” said Terry Teegee, regional chief for the Assembly of First Nations in B.C., adding that making history “is not for the faint of heart.”
“I want to say strongly and clearly here: This declaration law is not about providing any government with veto rights,” Teegee said.
Consent is about a process to achieve agreement, he said, which “is the future.”
“Most simply put, it’s about coming together as governments, as people seeking to find common ground,” Teegee said.
And if that is implemented well, B.C.’s mining industry is cautiously hopeful that such decision-making will “enable greater certainty and predictability on the land base,” according to Michael Goehring, CEO of the Mining Association of B.C.
Goehring said his association’s members have long been “advancing economic reconciliation” through agreements and partnerships with First Nations that reflect UNDRIP’s principles. So the industry welcomes a chance to provide input to government and Indigenous leaders on the plan and implementation of the legislation.
“The truth is, the status quo has not engendered confidence in British Columbia’s economic future, nor has it served British Columbians or B.C.’s Indigenous communities,” Goehring said. “So we approach this bill with cautious optimism.”
Fraser said the legislation was drafted after consultation with a wide range of groups and organizations, including Indigenous, business and government leaders. The declaration contains 46 articles, including that Indigenous Peoples have the right to self-determination, which means they can determine their political status and pursue economic, social and cultural development.
Another article calls for an independent process to be established to recognize and adjudicate Indigenous Peoples’ rights pertaining to their lands and resources granting them the right to redress or compensation for traditional lands that have been taken, used or damaged without their free, prior and informed consent. It’s unclear what this will practically look like in B.C., which has almost no treaty settlements with its over 200 First Nations. Horgan said the past is littered with broken promises to Indigenous Peoples, but the law can bring a new future.
“This bill is important because Indigenous rights are human rights,” he said. “We all want to live in a province where the standard of living for Indigenous Peoples is the same as every other community in the province.”
Chamberlin said the province, First Nations and B.C.’s salmon-farming industry used a shared-decision-making process for a deal over salmon farming in the Broughton Archipelago that could be a model for Bill 41’s implementation.
“People are going to say this is time-consuming and expensive,” Chamberlin said. “Well, I think going to court is time-consuming and expensive, and leads to no certainty whatsoever. It doesn’t advance reconciliation, it just hardens the lines, and I think after 150-odd years in Canada we’ve had enough hard lines.”
-With files from The Canadian Press
Posted by Jacob Resneck, CoastAlaska | Oct 11, 2019
Tribal representatives from across Southeast Alaska, British Columbia and Washington state are sounding the alarm over threats posed to wild salmon across state and national borders.
“We will not surrender our responsibilities as stewards of the land and resources entrusted to us by our creator,” John Ward of the Taku River Tlingit in Atlin, British Columbia said in a statement.
Pacific tribes stretching from Yakutat, Alaska to Bellingham, Washington attended the three-day summit hosted by the Lummi Nation near Ferndale, Washington.
At the conclusion of the three-day summit, the tribal governments jointly pledged they are:
“It’s just death by a thousand cuts,” she told CoastAlaska Thursday. “There’s so many things affecting our salmon, and this has been a focus of SEITC’s work for five years now.”
The tribes’ statement pointed to resource extraction industries, namely Canadian mines on transboundary watersheds that they say threaten fisheries that are primary food sources and the livelihoods of indigenous peoples.
In Alaska, the agency responsible for managing in-state fisheries is the Department of Fish and Game.
“I don’t think we’ve hit an emergency yet,” the agency’s Deputy Commissioner Ben Mulligan told CoastAlaska on Friday.
He says there are chinook runs that are stocks of concern: Chilkat, Unuk and King Salmon rivers.
“We haven’t had an indication that we’re reaching that point where we would say overall in the whole of Southeast that those are stocks of concern,” he said.
But Peterman says at the tribal summit, the consensus was governments in both countries aren’t doing enough to protect wild salmon.
She says Canada’s First Nations, Alaska and Washington state tribes pledged to work closer in the future.
“Our message is we’re going to keep on working on this issue to try and come up with some solutions based on traditional ecological knowledge,”
It was the second summit organized by SEITC.
Sarah Lawrynuik - The Narwhal
Oct 11, 2019 5 min read
As American scientists point fingers squarely at Canadian coal mines for high concentrations of selenium in fish in the transboundary Kootenai River, a new Canadian study finds the contaminant has the power to completely wipe out some lake invertebrates
High concentrations of a potentially toxic element have been found in fish in the Kootenai River of Montana and American scientists are pointing the finger at Canadian coal mines for the contamination.
In late September, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency published a report documenting elevated concentrations of selenium in fish just south of the U.S.-Canada border.
The study found some fish contained selenium concentrations surpassing the U.S. recommended maximum levels. Researchers found similar concentrations of selenium in the eggs of mountain whitefish.
“Selenium loads have been increasing over time in the Elk River, British Columbia, Canada, due to coal mining operations and runoff from associate spoil piles,” the report reads.
The Elk River is a tributary to the Kootenai River in Montana as well as Lake Koocanusa, where the ongoing research is being conducted. Coal mines in the Elk Valley, near Fernie, B.C., have been singled out as the main source of the contaminant.
Teck’s five metallurgical coal mines are all upstream of the transboundary Koocanusa Reservoir. Map: Carol Linnitt / The Narwhal
While selenium is an essential element for survival, overexposure can have devastating effects. In fish, it can lead to facial and spinal deformities, or an absence of the plates that overlay and protect the fish’s gills. In humans, it can lead to hair loss, muscle weakness and decreased brain function, among other issues, according to Health Canada.
Canadian scientist finds some invertebrates wiped out by seleniumMeanwhile in Canada, a growing awareness of selenium as a byproduct of mining, paired with numerous unknowns about its impacts in different aquatic environments, led toxicology researcher Stephanie Graves to take a closer look at its impacts.
Graves, a PhD student at the University of Saskatchewan, spent the last two years dumping various doses of selenium into lake enclosures in Ontario to monitor the effects, both at and above the recommended government thresholds.
Graves monitored the effects of selenium on a number of species, from fish to invertebrates, such as this copepod. Photo: Stephanie Graves / Experimental Lakes Area
Her research was done in two lakes reserved for such research at northwestern Ontario’s Experimental Lakes Area — a collection of 58 lakes cut off from nearly all human influence, used by researchers to conduct studies free of other contaminants and influencing factors.
Graves wanted to address two things in her research: how much selenium accumulated in invertebrates like zooplankton and other aquatic insects, as well as larger species such as fathead minnows. She also wanted to know what elevated concentrations did to these species.
Tiny invertebrates often don’t receive a lot of attention, but they are an integral piece of the aquatic food web.
“What we found so far is that those organisms can be very sensitive to selenium,” Graves said.
In fact, she found that some of the invertebrates were wiped out, or nearly wiped out at higher concentrations of selenium. Mayflies are often used to demonstrate impacts of pollution, Graves explains, because they are so sensitive — and this was no exception.
“They’re an important food source. So losing [mayflies] could have implications for higher trophic level organisms like fish. And invertebrates in general have very important roles in the ecosystem, in nutrient cycling and the transfer of nutrients to higher trophic levels,” Graves said.
The loss of even some of those organisms is significant, she added.
Grave’s research also found significant losses in a kind of zooplankton — another principal food source for fish.
And if you doubted just how important these seemingly small shifts are, Graves only exposed fish to the selenium-dosed environments for six weeks, and that time was enough to notice decreased growth of the fish.
Even the highest concentrations Graves used in her experiments can be found downstream of mines in Canada, she said. However, her research was very purposefully conducted in a lake, to consider what she calls the “worst case scenario” where those high-concentration flows aren’t diluted before arriving at a low-flow body of water.
“These concentrations aren’t unrealistic,” Graves said.
In one of her papers, published in the journal of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, Graves suggests that recommended federal guidelines for selenium, which is 1 microgram per litre, may not be sufficient to protect all ecosystems — specifically lakes.
In the end, Graves’ research doesn’t bode well for the health of places such as Montana’s Lake Koocanusa.
A group of scientists and conservationists paddle out on to the Koocanusa Reservoir where they are conducting independent water testing. Photo: Jayce Hawkins / The Narwhal
More regulations to comeWhen reached for comment, a spokesperson for the B.C. Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy said that the provincial government is continuously working with partners in Montana to further selenium research.
“The Province of British Columbia is committed to improving water quality in Lake Koocanusa and its tributary river systems,” the statement read.
The B.C. government said that the consortium is working toward setting a new target for the water system that will be followed by both B.C. and Montana regulators starting in 2020.
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.
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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