MAC: Mines and Communities

Canada: the Taseko controversy won't go away

Published by MAC on 2011-10-31
Source: Reuters, Globe and Mail, CBC News

Environment Agency may be forced to slash funding

It's clearly a conflict which isn't going to be resolved for some time to come. 

In June 2011, Canadian company Taseko Mines was forced to "revise" its plan to mine a fresh water lake, critical to the Tsilhqot'in First Nation. See: Canadian First Nations reject revised mine proposal

Now the mining company has returned to the drawing board, only to come up with a proposal that would still see destruction of the lake.

Meanwhile, Canada's Environment Assessment Agency (EAA) has announced it could lose 43 per cent of its annual budget at the end of this year.

Some MPs are concerned that this could mean the agency will be unable to carry out its duty to protect the environment.

But one Conservative MP has suggested that - instead of now increasing the EAA's income - it should reduce the long list of "small" mining projects requiring assessment.

Native Canadians put new hurdle in way of Taseko Prosperity gold-copper mine

By David Ljunggren


20 October 2011

OTTAWA - If Taseko Mines presses ahead with a plan to build a mine on aboriginal lands in British Columbia it could harm the Canadian province's plans to expand the mining sector, a native leader said on Wednesday.

Last November, the federal government turned down Taseko's bid to build its C$1 billion  Prosperity gold-copper mine on the grounds that it would do too much environmental damage.

The company has now submitted an altered bid which it says addresses Ottawa's concerns. But aboriginal groups - which are particularly influential in British Columbia - complain the new plan would do even more damage than the first.

One native leader said the affair could impede the Pacific province's strategy of opening eight mines and expanding nine existing mines in the next four years.

Aboriginal groups, who refer to themselves as First Nations, have in the past sought to drag out the already lengthy process of gaining approval for industrial projects by launching lawsuits.

Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, said he did not "think it would be a prudent notion to sacrifice" the province's mining strategy for the sake of Prosperity.

"We suggest that in the event this proposal were to move forward it would poison the well, so to speak, and it would undermine the ability of indigenous groups, industry and government to come together," he told a news conference.

"We've indicated ... that we want to work with the provincial government and move forward on a (mining) strategy but this particular issue could give that a black eye and undermine that goodwill that is currently there," he said.

Taseko spokesman Brian Battison dismissed the idea the new project posed more risks than the original one, saying the company planned to spend an extra C$300 million on measures to protect the environment.

"It's disappointing they (the native leaders) would take that position. I'm not sure how much they actually know about our project, given that they've refused to talk to us," he said.

Taseko issued a statement on Tuesday saying the mine would add 71,000 jobs over 20 years.

The project, a conventional open-pit mine located about 125 km (80 miles) southwest of Williams Lake, British Columbia, is expected to have a 20-year operational life with a production capacity of 70,000 tonnes of mineral ore per day.

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency must decide by Nov. 7 whether the federal government needs to order a new environmental assessment for Prosperity. Such a study would take around a year to conduct.

Battison said he expected the agency to recommend a full review and said he was optimistic the mine would be approved.

Native leaders said they were confident the second assessment would also rule against the mine but expressed frustration the company was trying again.

($1=$1.01 Canadian) (Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Peter Galloway)

Natives renew their fight as Ottawa weighs revised plan for B.C. gold mine

By Gloria Galloway

Globe and Mail

19 October 2011

First nations leaders say the are experiencing an unsettling sense of déja vu as they resume the fight against a massive gold mining project in British Columbia that was rejected by the federal government last year after a scathing environmental assessment.

Taseko Mines Ltd. has returned with a revised plan to develop the Prosperity mine that lies within traditional Tsilhqot'in territory in the B.C. Interior.

Unlike the original proposal that was first rejected by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, and then by former Conservative environment minister Jim Prentice, this plan would not require the draining of Fish Lake - a key wildlife habitat and place of spiritual significance for the local aboriginal people.

But the representatives of the Tsilhqot'in National Government, which represents six local first nations, point out that Taseko has admitted the lake would still be destroyed under the new plan.

They say the mining company is hoping the worsening economy, the promise of tens of thousands of jobs and the cutbacks within the federal departments that assessed the project a year ago will convince Ottawa to change its mind. The provincial government in British Columbia has supported the mine and Premier Christy Clark has crafted her new jobs plan around the mining industry.

The new proposal "is not really a new project, it's just simply an alteration," Marilyn Baptiste, chief of the Xeni Gwet'in First Nation where the mine is located, told an Ottawa news conference Wednesday.

The new proposal eliminates Little Fish Lake and the Nabas region, which are connected to Fish Lake and are the spawning grounds for the lake's trout population, Chief Baptiste said. The tailing pond upstream will be moved further away, she said. But there will still be a three-kilometre-wide open pit on the other side of the lake.

"So basically Fish Lake will be on life support, so to speak, and will go through a slower death than the initial proposal," she said.

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency is reviewing the new plan and will announce on Nov. 7 whether the concerns of its original review have been met. It will then be up to the federal Conservative government and Environment Minister Peter Kent to decide if the mine can proceed.

The first nations leaders say they have tried unsuccessfully to meet with Mr. Kent and Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan. The Assembly of First Nations says the problem has been scheduling, not lack of will.

Chief Joe Alphonse, the chair of the Tsilhqot'in National Government, said he fears the lobbying efforts of Taseko have had an impact on the government.

Taseco says it is investing an additional $300-million to preserve Fish Lake in response to concerns expressed by first nations and the federal government.

"New Prosperity is a long-term project that will deliver responsible value to all Canadians. We continue to urge first nations leaders to meet with us in order to discuss how aboriginal communities can best benefit from New Prosperity," said Russell Hallbauer, the company's president.

"We have worked for nearly two decades to develop sound impact mitigation measures to preserve the integrity not only of the lake but also of the region generally, and those efforts are now before the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency for review," Mr. Hallbauer said.

Taseko released a study this week that suggests 71,000 jobs would be created over the life of the mine, generating $4.3-billion in federal tax revenue and $5.5-billion in provincial tax revenue.

But Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, the president of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, dismissed the claims of massive economic benefits and job creation numbers saying the Prosperity Mine is a billion-dollar project in a remote location.

"We're puzzled why we're back here, déja vu" he said. And if the mine is rejected again, "will we be back here a third time?"

Taseko officials have admitted that, within 10 years, the levels of contamination within the lake would be the same as within their settling ponds, Chief Phillip said.

During the first environmental assessment, Brian Battison, the company's vice-president of corporate affairs, said: "The lake and the deposit sit side by side. It is not possible to have one without the loss of the other."

Chief Phillip said he hopes the political environment in Ottawa has not changed so much in the past year that the government would consider something "this devastating. ... If they push this through, I think it puts the credibility of government right on the table."

Environment agency says cuts will limit oversight

By Margo McDiarmid,

CBC News

21 October 2011

The Canadian Environment Assessment Agency reviews projects involving natural resources, including mining projects such as the oilsands.

The federal watchdog that keeps an eye on natural resources projects to prevent environmental damage says it could soon be understaffed and overworked, limiting its ability to do its job.

The president of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency told members of a parliamentary committee Thursday the agency could lose 43 per cent of its annual budget at the end of the year, dropping to $17.1 million in 2012-13 from $30 million in 2011-12.

Elaine Feldman told MPs the agency may have to lay off one-third of its staff, 80 people out of 242, at a time when the country is facing a huge surge in major projects in mining, oil and gas and forestry.

"What I'm told is there is up to $500 billion of potential new investments in Canadian natural resource projects in the coming years, and if that is the right figure the agency is going to be very busy," said Feldman.

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency reviews a wide range of projects that fall under federal jurisdiction, use federal money or take place on federal land.

The projects include everything from small endeavours such as maple syrup farms to big ones like oil and gas projects. The bulk of its clients are mines, including the massive oilsands projects in Alberta. The agency's mandate is to make sure that projects don't harm the environment.

The federal government increased the agency's budget in 2007 and again in 2010 to help keep up with the surge in new applications for resource projects. But Feldman told the committee the money runs out at the end of this fiscal year.

"That will be a decision that will be part of budget 2012," Feldman said. "We don't know if the sun-setting funds will be renewed ... we will just have to wait and see."

Some MPs expressed concerned that a drop in the agency's budget could hamper it from doing its job of protecting the environment.

"This reduction gives myself and my colleagues great concern," says NDP MP Laurin Liu.

Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth suggested that part of the answer could be reducing the long list of small projects the agency has to assess and let it devote its resources to looking at the major ones.

Feldman agreed that is an option for the future. But for now her agency just has to wait and see.

"We simply don't know what is going to happen."

The CEAA was before the Commons environment committee as part of its seven-year review.

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