by Greg Klein | February 26, 2014
What was more controversial—the mine proposal or the environmental process?
For the second time, Canada’s federal government has rejected a Taseko Mines TSX:TKO proposal to build a copper-gold operation in central British Columbia. In a February 25 decision made public late the following day, the federal cabinet declared that “the New Prosperity mine project is likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects that cannot be mitigated.” No mention was made of Taseko’s claim that the environmental review studied a mine plan much different than the actual proposal.
Last November the company stated that a two-year federal review panel issued a negative report largely based on a tailings storage plan that was “completely different” from what Taseko had proposed. At the time the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency declined to respond to inquiries from ResourceClips.com.
The panel’s report went to Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq. A negative decision from her requires cabinet backing.
Defending the cabinet decision, Aglukkaq’s February 26 statement noted the review panel’s criticisms:
- “significant adverse effects on water quality and fish and fish habitat;
- significant adverse effects on the current use of lands and resources for traditional purposes by certain aboriginal groups, on their cultural heritage and on their archeological and historical resources;
- significant adverse effects on wetland and riparian (interface between land and a river or stream) ecosystems; and
- significant adverse cumulative effects on the regional grizzly and moose populations, unless necessary mitigation measures are effectively implemented.”
Opposition from six native chiefs had emphasized concern about how the tailings plan would affect the 118-hectare Fish Lake. In November 2010 those criticisms killed Taseko’s original proposal to drain the lake. After that first federal rejection, the company came back with a $300-million revision to save Fish Lake by moving the tailings dump. Opponents weren’t satisfied.
But in December John Meech, head of the University of B.C.’s Centre for Environmental Research in Minerals, Metals and Materials, told a public rally that Taseko’s plan “will not only protect Fish Lake, but it will enhance the quality of the fish that reside in that lake.” He added, “Anyone who tells you the [tailings’] seepage rates are in error is not telling you the truth.”
Other speakers at the December event included former Tsilhqot’in National Government chief Ervin Charleyboy, who stated that New Prosperity’s native supporters had been intimidated into silence. He challenged opposing chiefs to call a general assembly to vote on the issue.
Also present was B.C. mines minister Bill Bennett, who later lobbied Ottawa parliamentarians on behalf of the mine.
Unavoidable to the discussion is the nebulous topic of native rights, potential rights, potential title, tradition and culture. Those concerns came up repeatedly in the first environmental review. Since then the federal government has granted “interested party” status in environmental reviews to a number of political and ideological groups.
This time around, did non-environmental concerns trump Taseko’s claim that the review panel studied the wrong model?
Regardless, Aglukkaq left the door open to a continued rigmarole, inviting “the submission of another proposal that addresses the government’s concerns.”
Update: In a February 27 statement the company said it will continue with an application launched in December for a federal judicial review into the panel’s findings “and the panel’s failure to comply with principles of procedural fairness.”