Environmental Assessment processes in Canada becoming kangaroo courts?

Figure this one out… (is this not exhausting?… and expensive for taxpayers…?)

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you heard the one about a pig in lipstick...?

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The controversial proposed Prosperity Gold project west of Williams Lake in BC is back into the federal Environmental Assessment process.

Last November, the federal government denied approval for this flawed open-pit mining proposal following a “scathing” (Jim Prentice — Conservative Environment Minister’s words) federal Environmental Assessment report. The report concluded that the project as proposed would have “signficiant environmental effects” and therefore should not be approved. The federal government (then a Conservative minority) agreed.

Environment Canada Nov. 2, 2010  press release:

the significant adverse environmental effects of the Prosperity project cannot be justified as it is currently proposed.”

“as it is currently proposed” is the big phrase to pay attention to here…

In short… one of the central concerns of the proposed project was turning Fish Lake (aptly named) into a mining waste and tailings facility. Taseko Mines Ltd. the Vancouver-based mining company swore up and down that without the lake for a tailings facility the project was not economically feasible. They put a $300 million price tag on the lake — as in it would cost an extra $300 million to undertake the project without having access to destroying the lake.

And this made the project economically infeasible.

Despite fierce opposition from First Nations and many others — including the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans for many, many years — Taseko insisted on pushing ahead with the ‘kill-Fish Lake’ option.

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For those not entirely familiar with this project… Taseko Mines Ltd. has been trying to push this proposed open-pit copper and gold mine for many years. A few years ago, in my own conversations with senior staff at the organization, they suggested Taseko had over $90 million invested in bringing this project to development.

Now that it has gone through two environmental assessment process — British Columbia and Canada — those costs are sure to have risen significantly.

Taseko Mines lobbied British Columbia and Canada to ensure that they were not subjected to a Joint Review Panel. The purpose of a Joint Review process is to harmonize the process and save the costs of having to do two separate Environmental Assessments.

Now why would a company not want a harmonized process? Why enter two separate processes with the added cost?

That appears to be clear when through a fast-tracked British Columbia Environmental Assessment (EA) the proposed project was approved.

This despite several important studies still not being completed. And the fact that the BC EA process still suggested that the project would have significant environmental impacts…

‘But these would be outweighed by the apparent economic benefits.’

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Curious, that, as it is called an: “environmental” assessment”…

However, the BC EA website does suggest that the Office and process considers:

… thorough, timely and integrated assessment of the potential environmental, economic, social, heritage and health effects that may occur during the lifecycle of these projects

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Yet, if one reviews the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) website there is a much more comprehensive discussion of the benefits of “sustainable development” and there are lengthy reports describing what this means and how Canada will uphold its international commitments on this front.

To provide Canadians with high-quality federal environmental assessments that contribute to informed decision making in support of sustainable development.

The classic internationally-recognized definition of sustainable development being upheld here: “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

In the mid-1990s, every Canadian federal government ministry was bound by this definition and provided strategies, actions plans, and other bureaucratic drivel to meet this definition. (you know… benchmarks, accountability measures, best practices, etc.)

And so what option was the federal government left with last November when the “scathing” federal EA assessment report was tabled and not only laid out the ‘significant environmental impacts’ of killing Fish Lake and turning it into a tailings pond for mining waste but also more, as outlined in their final report:

The Panel concludes that the [Prosperity] 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.

Yeah, that does seem a bit scathing… and straight forward.

Sorry folks, Rejected. (with rubber stamp)

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Now through the federal EA process many questions were asked about alternative proposals for the project. Against Taseko’s desires, they did start to rumble about other options, as opposed to killing Fish Lake — especially as commodity prices such as gold and copper started to recover from the global recession.

However, some of those options may very well have bigger impacts then the initial proposal.

And now, folks, we have “New Prosperity“.

Taseko Mines has created a fancy new PR website touting all the economic advantages of their “New” project. One can also read the “new” project summary, which includes:

…While the New Prosperity proposal does result in the loss of the 6 hectare Little Fish Lake, Little Fish Lake provides only low overwintering values (i.e., it is subject to winterkill)…

Hmmm.

I’m guessing there’s no connection between Little Fish Lake and Fish Lake…?

And, yup, i’m sure that Little fish “provides only low wintering values”…

I’m attaching a couple of images that most folks learn in elementary school:

example food web in a lake

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example of mountain lake food chain

And here’s another:

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Fascinating stuff, that ecology thing…

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Now, I’m sure there’s no connection between the incredible run on commodity prices such as Gold and Copper over this past year? Gold now sits at record prices, copper not far off.

And somehow Taseko’s “long-term” forecasts for these metals looks so much better now, then they did two years ago.

How does that happen?

How does the “forecast” change that dramatically?

Oh wait, because its based a helluva lot more on current prices then it has anything to do with what computer models pump out. Because really, we know that economic forecasting is less accurate than weather forecasting, and even less accurate then things like modelling natural ecosystems (e.g. wild salmon returns).

So let ask the experts this… what happens when a project such as this ramps into development and commodity prices crash?

Then no lake (even Little Fish Lake), and ‘no economic benefits’.

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Now, it is important to notice that the federal government (aka Conservatives) left the door wide open for Taseko to return to the consultants… er… drawing table to draft up more reports and more plans to revise their development plans…

However, even the alternatives discussed through the previous EA process will most likely still have significant environmental impacts. The new proposal (e.g. “New Prosperity”) reminds me of the old saying of putting lipstick on a pig…

And this apparent “New Prosperity” is largely based on commodity bubble prices that won’t last in a very, very fragile world economy — and still doesn’t change the fact that the ‘new prosperity’ represented in the project still poses significant adverse environmental impacts and effects.

It may be a “new” prosperity — but that’s still to the same people as before, not the local First Nations and others that still oppose the project in its “new” form.

And it’s still the “old” environmental impacts, and still the “old” economy vs. environment debate.

And most of all… it still makes a mockery of an Environmental Assessment process in BC that is still simply a BC Liberal-government kangaroo court, rubber stamping facility.

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