While other jurisdictions like Quebec and Alaska require mines to post full remediation costs as a condition of approval, B.C. rules allow environmental liabilities from mining projects — which are often on Indigenous lands — to fall to the taxpayer
The abandoned Tulsequah Chief mine site is situated just meters from the Tulsequah, a tributary of the salmon-rich Taku River. For six decades B.C. has failed to address acid mine drainage at the mine site. Photo: Colin Arisman / The Narwhal
The First Nations Energy and Mining Council has added its voice to increasingly insistent calls for B.C. to toughen up mining rules and make polluters pay.
A newly released study, conducted for the council, recommends the province change rules to ensure mining companies post sufficient funds up-front to pay for cleanup and remediation of mining sites and the report recommends that, if the government will not act, First Nations should do it for them.
“If the British Columbia provincial government does not implement the … recommendations, Indigenous nations should require in-full and up-front financial assurance as a condition of their consent to mining projects,” the study says.
Alternatively, First Nations could negotiate full clean-up costs as part of impact and benefits agreements with mining companies, suggests economist Jason Dion, lead author of the report.
The demand is buoyed by B.C.’s commitment to implementing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the study says that requiring stringent financial assurances before mining projects can go ahead on Indigenous lands “would be fully in line with their rights as articulated in the UN Declaration.”
Robert Phillips, a member of the First Nations Mining and Energy Council, said government reaction to the report will indicate its commitment to UNDRIP.
“By accepting our recommendations, the B.C. government will be demonstrating that it is genuinely committed to not only mining reform, but also the spirit and principles of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act that is being passed by the Legislature,” Phillips said.
Another recently released report, from the B.C. Mining Law Reform Network is recommending that Indigenous-led groups should be given a larger role in overseeing mining projects approved on their lands.
Taxpayers on the hook for mine clean-up costs
Although mining companies are supposed to be liable for the costs of mine remediation in B.C., in reality, taxpayers are left on the hook for expensive clean-up of sites if a mining company goes broke because the province does not insist on up-front bonds in the form of cash or securities.
Instead, pledges or guarantees based on the value of minerals are often accepted when the provincial Chief Inspector of Mines decides on the form of financial assurance.
That leaves B.C. taxpayers on the hook, with Auditor General Carol Bellringer estimating in her 2016 report that there is a $1.43 billion gap between the total cleanup liability of $2.79 billion and $1.36 billion held in financial assurance. Another report by the watchdog group MiningWatch Canada estimated the figure to be closer to $3 billion.