Another mining company (and complicit advocates) learns the hard way that turning lakes and waterbodies into acid-generating waste rock tailings facilities is not an acceptable form of economic development.
Yesterday, a Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) Panel ruled that Taseko Mines Ltd. proposed Prosperity Project on the Chilcotin Platau (west of Williams Lake, BC) would have significant environmental effects and the Panel ruled that the project should not go ahead as proposed:
The Panel concludes that the Project would result in significant adverse environmental effects on fish and fish habitat, on navigation, on the current use of lands and resources for traditional purposes by First Nations and on cultural heritage, and on certain potential or established Aboriginal rights or title. The Panel also concludes that the Project, in combination with past, present and reasonably foreseeable future projects would result in a significant adverse cumulative effect on grizzly bears in the South Chilcotin region and on fish and fish habitat.
The Executive Summary of the CEAA Panel is available online.
In short, my read of the summary is that the panel basically suggests: ‘Taseko Mines, what the hell are you thinking…?’ There isn’t really much in the summary that suggests anything good about the project going ahead.
Fish Lake – Teztan Biny – is suggested to have anywhere between 75,000 – 90,000 resident rainbow trout. Taseko was proposing to drain, dam, and re-flood this lake so that it could be used as a tailings facility for acid-generating waste rock and waste materials from the milling process to extract copper and gold. By submersing these materials underwater the acid-generating process is slowed.
To compensate for the loss, Taseko was going to create a “new” lake: “Prosperity Lake.”
Here’s the kicker… the newly created “Prosperity Lake” was only going to support 20,000 rainbow trout.
That makes sense… especially when the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has a specific policy called “No Net Loss” for fish habitat. If fish habitat has to be destroyed then new habitat has to be created at an equal or better level. (I won’t comment on the level of assumption required here, or the complete lack of monitoring to ensure this is met, or lack of funding to do it, etc…)
The numbers speak for themselves on this one issue with the lake.
Yet, that was not all that the CEAA Panel found issues with; it’s a solid list of issues.
My question is what the hell does this say about the BC Environmental Assessment Agency, which approved this project last January?
Their conclusion was that: yes, the proposed project would have significant environmental affects; however the economic benefits were worth it.
So in essence, they attached a dollar value to all of the negative impacts that the federal enviro assessment agency identified.
While the B.C. assessment foresaw harm to the environment, it concluded that was outweighed by a predicted $5-billion economic injection over the 20-year life of the mine and $600-million of revenue for various governments.
From Globe and Mail article yesterday: Harper to decide fate of controversial B.C. mine
So does this mean that the folks on the BC Environmental Assessment Panel – and the current BC government which fully supports that BC EA decision and not the CEAA decision of yesterday – feels that a 90,000 rainbow trout lake, vital grizzly bear habitat, aboriginal rights and title, traplines, guide outfitter territory, tourism (the Provincial government actually has a “postcard” of Fish Lake in their recent tourism material), and ranch-grazing land is all worth $600 million in government revenues and a few hundred jobs — for a period of only 20 years (the proposed life of the mine)?
This is of course all based on the assumption that stock markets remain firm and commodity prices such as gold & copper (the main minerals to be extracted from this proposed mine) remain high. Anyone who has watched the markets over the last couple of years (or longer) recognizes the danger in this giant assumption.
These are curious dollar figures to contemplate as a society and further pushed to balance: economic vs. environmental.
Here’s another serious problem. As, the Globe article suggests:
Richard Walker, a spokesman for Natural Resources Minister Christian Paradis, said the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency is independent and he did not comment on what the government will do.
Yet, the BC government counterparts don’t seem to get this issue. EA panels are independent review bodies… because of exactly this issue. Government officials tend to have some issues with respecting this part of democracy:
Bill Bennett, B.C.’s Mining Minister and a former fishing guide, will push Ottawa to give the green light to the mine, located about 250 kilometres north of Vancouver.
“I’m not rape and pillage. I’m a life-long conservationist,” Mr. Bennett said in an interview. “If this was what some people have said it is, an environmental travesty, I wouldn’t support it either.”
A final answer will come by early September, as cabinet has 10 weeks to make a decision, a spokeswoman for the review panel said.
“We frankly would like to see this project happen,” Mr. Bennett said. “I’ll be discussing this with my federal counterparts to whatever extent they’re willing to talk to me about it.”
Mr.Bennett… that’s exactly the problem with you, your colleagues, and your current leader… you’ve already made up your mind before the enviro assessment panels are done their work. Even when an independent review panel of experts on the issue rule that the project is too risky… you and your colleagues decide to do things “to whatever extent” you need to.
You’re supposed to act on the will of your constituency and even on the decisions of independent review panels (that’s the whole point); not the will of your political party and water cooler colleagues.
An independent review panel of three experts in this matter have ruled that it will be largely an environmental and social travesty if the project goes ahead. Seems to be spelled out in the ruling…