B.C. miner says feds favoured opponents before rejecting New Prosperity
by Greg Klein
The Canadian government acted unlawfully to reject a mine proposal, according to a lawsuit filed February 11 by Taseko Mines TSX:TKO. Senior federal officials hosted undisclosed meetings with project opponents, showed them draft documents and allowed them to provide submissions that weren’t divulged to the company or public, Taseko maintains. Canada’s environment minister and federal cabinet relied on those submissions in their decision to reject New Prosperity, a $1.5-billion copper-gold open pit proposed for south-central British Columbia, the company further stated.
At least some of the federal authorities involved “knew that their actions or omissions were unlawful,” according to the claim.
Named as defendants are Canada’s Attorney General and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. Those allegedly involved include former environment minister Leona Aglukkaq, her parliamentary secretary, five deputy or former deputy ministers, as well as the president and four employees of the CEAA.
Although the alleged actions would have happened while the Conservatives held office, the new Liberal government “would be responsible for the acts of the previous government in our view,” Taseko counsel John J.L. Hunter tells ResourceClips.com.
Damages weren’t specified. “There have been an awful lot of dollars spent on this that have gone to naught,” Hunter says—over $130 million according to the document.
Taseko operates Canada’s second-largest open pit, the Gibraltar copper-molybdenum mine, also in south-central B.C., in which the company holds a 75% stake.
New Prosperity, on the other hand, has been a focus of strong native opposition. A redesign of a former project that passed the provincial assessment but met federal rejection in 2010, New Prosperity added $300 million to the capex to move its tailings facility and avoid draining a 118-hectare lake. The proposal underwent a two-year review that included 24 days of public hearings in 2013. A CEAA-appointed panel found significant adverse environmental effects in three areas. But the panel “recommended mitigation measures to address the anticipated adverse environmental effects on Tsilqot’in archeological and historical resources,” Taseko’s claim states.
Nevertheless rejection came from the minister and cabinet in late February 2014. Tsilhqot’in chiefs said the 2010 and 2014 decisions resulted from “an unprecedented two scathing independent expert panel reports which make clear that the project was unacceptable environmentally and in terms of its impact on First Nations’ rights and culture, and that these impacts were immitigable.”
Taseko claims that, between the panel completing its report and the feds announcing their decision, senior officials including deputy ministers and Aglukkaq’s parliamentary secretary held undisclosed meetings with opponents and accepted their written submissions. The company says its requests to attend any such meetings and review additional input were rebuffed. The last few meetings took place just two weeks before Aglukkaq released her decision, Taseko alleges, and opponents “provided input on draft conditions for the decision statement.”
[The 2010 and 2014 decisions resulted from] an unprecedented two scathing independent expert panel reports which make clear that the project was unacceptable environmentally and in terms of its impact on First Nations’ rights and culture, and that these impacts were immitigable.—Tsilhqot’in chiefs comment
on the proposal’s rejection
The company learned of the meetings through Facebook, spokesperson Brian Battison told ResourceClips.com.
Among previous complaints from Taseko, the company says Natural Resources Canada studied a tailings storage design different from the proposed plan. The CEAA included the NRC study in its review. That allegation will be among procedural and fairness concerns examined by two judicial reviews that Taseko has already launched.
“There’s some overlap in the claims but the remedies that could be obtained are quite different from judicial review and from civil action,” Hunter explains. He anticipates the judicial reviews being heard this year but the lawsuit will likely take longer to come to court.
The defendants have yet to respond to Taseko’s allegations, which haven’t been proven.
The lawsuit opens a new chapter in a long, discouraging tale. But earlier this month the Mining Association of Canada lauded efforts that have brought about 265 active agreements between miners and native communities, as well as joint ventures, training, employment and other collaboration. “These serve as a testament to the ongoing development of progressive relationships between mining companies and aboriginal communities,” commented MAC president/CEO Pierre Gratton.
The group called for more jurisdictions to adopt government revenue-sharing programs for native bands affected by mining projects. B.C. did so in 2010, but that failed to sway the Tsilhqot’in National Government. Quebec, Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador, and the three territories have also implemented revenue-sharing for natives.
While Taseko’s lawsuit attempts to hold the current government accountable for alleged actions before it came to power, the Liberals campaigned on a promise to overhaul the environmental review process. The new regime’s stated goal is to “ensure that decisions are based on science, facts and evidence, and serve the public’s interest.”