NGOs win mining environmental victory in CanadaPublished by MAC on 2009-04-27
A resounding victory has been achieved in Canada, as three NGOs succeed in forcing the government to report all pollutants released to the environment from mining operations - including those contained in tailings and waste rock.
For previous story, see: http://www.minesandcommunities.org/article.php?a=9041
Canada: Federal Court orders publication of all mining pollution data
24th April 2009
The Harper government must report in a national public database all the pollution being produced by mining companies, a Federal Court judge ruled Thursday.
The National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI), created in 1993, details all the industrial and commercial pollutants released into the air, water and land in Canada.
Since 2006, NPRI has also required that all pollutants released during mining activities must be reported. Some of the waste found in tailings and waste rock - including mercury, sulphuric acid and arsenic - is deemed toxic by law and must be reported in the NPRI.
But due to the government's interpretation of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA), the NPRI has not included the pollutants present in the tailings and waste rock produced during the extraction of ore.
In Thursday's ruling, Justice James Russell said the government "erred" in its interpretation of the law.
In his ruling, Russell wrote that "it is clearly unsatisfactory that such an important part of the pollution picture in Canada is not being reported to the public under CEPA."
Environment Minister Jim Prentice said the government will comply with the court's ruling.
Ecojustice, formerly known as the Sierra Legal Defence Fund, had filed suit against the government in 2007 on behalf of two environmental groups, Great Lakes United and Mining Watch Canada. The suit alleged the government broke the law by failing to collect the pollutant information and publish it in the NPRI.
Prentice and a consortium of mining companies had fought against publishing the information in the NPRI, but conceded that the public should know which chemicals are present in waste rock and tailings. Both groups called for the establishment for a separate database that would detail this information.
Their discussions to establish such a record had gone on for 16 years without yielding results, a pace Russell called "glacial." He said there "is still no clear indication from the minister as to how and when this important information is going to be gathered and provided to the Canadian public."
Russell's ruling was praised by the two environmental groups that brought the suit. "Canadians living in places like Sudbury, with mining operations in their backyards, were blindfolded while millions of kilograms of carcinogens and heavy metals accumulated in tailings ponds and waste rock piles across the country," John Jackson of Great Lakes United said in a statement.
"With this decision, the blindfold comes off and citizens can truly hold these companies to account for their pollution and the environmental and health dangers they pose."
But the executive director of the Chamber of Mineral Resources in Newfoundland and Labrador - which produces between 10 and 12 per cent of all of Canada's minerals - disagreed.
Gerry O'Connell told CBC News on Friday that tailings and waste rock are "not a major source of pollution. It's material that's simply removed in the process of mining to get at the ore. So waste rock could hardly be considered pollution. It would be same as a rock cut on the highway."
Jamie Kneen of Mining Watch Canada agreed that the material is naturally occurring, but said it is made hazardous after being brought to the surface and processed.
Metal mine tailings and waste rock accounted for 27 per cent of all pollutants produced in the United States in 2007, according to the Toxic Release Inventory, the U.S. equivalent of the NPRI.
Court Victory Forces Canada to Report Pollution Data for Mines
MiiningWatch Canada Press Release
24th April 2009
TORONTO - Great Lakes United, Mining Watch Canada and Ecojustice are hailing a landmark decision from the Federal Court of Canada released late yesterday that will force the federal government to stop withholding data on one of Canada's largest sources of pollution - millions of tonnes of toxic mine tailings and waste rock from mining operations throughout the country.
The Federal Court sided with the groups and issued an Order demanding that the federal government immediately begin publicly reporting mining pollution data from 2006 onward to the National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI). The strongly worded decision describes the government's pace as "glacial" and chastises the government for turning a "blind eye" to the issue and dragging its feet for "more than 16 years".
"This is a huge decision for environmental justice in Canada," said Ecojustice lawyer Justin Duncan. Fellow lawyer Marlene Cashin added, "The court has unequivocally upheld the right of Canadians to know when the health of their communities and the environment is under threat from one of the country's largest sources of toxic pollution."
The lawsuit was filed in Federal Court in 2007 on behalf of MiningWatch Canada and Great Lakes United by Ecojustice (formerly Sierra Legal Defence Fund). The lawsuit alleged that the Minister of Environment broke the law when he failed to collect and report this pollution information from mines in Canada under the NPRI.
"This is a victory that should be celebrated from Smithers to Voisey's Bay," said MiningWatch Canada spokesman Jamie Kneen. "The public has a right to know what kind of toxic liabilities are being created every day. It's always been bizarre to us that the mining industry should not face the same reporting requirements as every other industrial sector, and we're pleased that the Court agreed with us."
In stark contrast, since 1998, the U.S. government has required mining companies to report all pollutants under the American equivalent of the NPRI, the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI). In 2005, the 72 mines reporting to the TRI released more than 500 million kilograms of mine tailings and waste rock - accounting for 27% of all U.S. pollutants reported. With yesterday's court decision, pollution data from Canada's 80 metal mining facilities will now similarly have to be reported under the NPRI.
"Canadians living in places like Sudbury, with mining operations in their backyards, were blindfolded while millions of kilograms of carcinogens and heavy metals accumulated in tailings ponds and waste rock piles across the country," said John Jackson of Great Lakes United. "With this decision, the blindfold comes off and citizens can truly hold these companies to account for their pollution and the environmental and health dangers they pose."
Judgment available on line at: http://www.miningwatch.ca/index.php?/npri/NPRI_victory_federal_cour
For further information please visit http://www.ecojustice.ca
Justin Duncan, Ecojustice (416) 573-4258 (cell)
Marlene Cashin, Ecojustice (416) 368-7533 ext. 31 John Jackson, Great Lakes United, (519) 744-7503
Jamie Kneen, MiningWatch Canada (613) 761-2273 (cell)