BC mine cleanup policy won’t protect taxpayers—or the environment, says Wildsight

Having had a look at the proposed revisions to the Ministry of Mines mine reclamation security policy, Wildsight spokesperson Lars Sander-Green says the reforms provide the appearance of change without actually providing change.

The proposals aim to make sure mine owners, not taxpayers, pay for the full cost of cleaning up mine sites and dealing with long-term water pollution.

“The policy recommendations in the report won’t fundamentally change the shaky foundation of mine bonding in BC, leaving taxpayers and our environment at risk from today’s mines—and mines in the future,” said Sander-Green. “Despite the Auditor General’s findings, the province appears to be more interested in appearing to make changes than actually making changes.”

Meanwhile, the total mine reclamation bonding shortfall in the province increased from $1.2B in 2015 to $1.6B in 2016. For the Elk Valley coal mines, the sources of selenium water pollution that is expected to continue for centuries, Teck has only put up about $500 million, leaving them nearly $900 million short of their estimated reclamation cost.

“But long-term water treatment costs are very likely underestimated,” says Sander-Green, “so the total that taxpayers could be on the hook for may run into the billions.”

In her 2016 report, the Auditor General found that BC didn’t make sure companies put up enough security to pay for clean up and didn’t seriously review reclamation costs, which are estimated by mining companies themselves., Wildsight says. The Auditor found that long-term costs of water treatment were uncertain and that BC had no way to make sure taxpayers weren’t on the hook for environmental disasters, like the one at Mount Polley.

The policy recommendations that the Ministry of Mines, Energy & Petroleum Resources are asking for public comment on until November 8th, which come from a report prepared by consultant Ernst & Young, don’t make significant changes to BC’s long-standing policies, according to Sander-Green.

“There are so many exceptions and weak policies in these proposals that mine owners across the province are going to keep profiting while BC taxpayers are carrying the long-term cleanup risk,” says Sander-Green. “Examples like Britannia Mine, where BC taxpayers are on the hook for millions annually in water treatment costs, or the Tulsequah Chief Mine, a former Teck mine that is polluting the Taku River after subsequent owners walked away without cleaning up, show us what happens when BC doesn’t take mine cleanup security seriously.”

The key reclamation security issues identified by the Auditor General aren’t substantively addressed in the report, he says.

“The report doesn’t recommend that BC ask mining companies put up the whole cost of cleanup, or even more than they do now. A fund to cover environmental disaster costs is considered by the report, but isn’t recommended for BC, despite being used in other jurisdictions.

“BC needs mine owners to let the public know what their reclamation plans are and how much they will cost. We need mine owners to provide full financial guarantees to cover costs for the long-term, and we need the mining industry to pay into a fund to cover environmental disasters, like Mount Polley, if the mine owner can’t pay.

“In other jurisdictions, mining companies have to put up full reclamation costs for their mines. In Alaska, Teck has put up more money for the full cleanup cost of one ten-year-old mine than they have for all 13 of their mines in BC, including the five mountaintop-removal coal mines in the Elk Valley.

“We deserve better in BC,” says Sander-Green. “We need mine owners to pay for clean up, so taxpayers don’t end up footing the bill, or worse: clean up never happens.”

Wild sight is calling for a world-class and truly protective reclamation security policy which includes the following:

• Full bonding of estimated reclamation costs

• Public release of full, detailed reclamation plans, cost estimates and bonding status

• Financial assurances for unexpected environmental damage, including minimum financial resources requirements for mine owners tied to risk assessments

• An industry-funded pool to cover shortfalls from both unexpected events and post-closure reclamation

• A requirement to establish a specific fund for mines that require water treatment for the long-term or in perpetuity. These funds must generate sufficient risk-free interest to cover the costs of water treatment, monitoring, maintenance and capital replacement.

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