British Columbians want mining industry to clean up its mess or pay, survey reveals

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Photo: Garth Lenz / ILCP RAVE

‘Clean it up or pay’ — that’s the clear message that British Columbians want to send the mining industry, according to new Wildsight-commissioned polling from Research Co.

The province-wide poll found four in five British Columbians (82%) believe politicians need to do more to stand up against corporate polluters. 

A similar majority (81%) said the cost of environmental restoration and clean up should be entirely covered by the companies responsible for the damage, rather than a portion being left to the taxpayer.

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Spotlight on Elk Valley water pollution

The findings follow the release of a Wildsight-commissioned report which revealed B.C. taxpayers could foot a multi-billion-dollar bill to clean up selenium pollution flowing from Teck-owned coal mines in the Elk Valley. 

Currently, Teck’s environmental bond is set at $1.9 billion, but the Burgess Environmental report calculated it could cost more than three times that amount ($6.4 billion) to only partially clean up the selenium contamination — let alone other environmental impacts, such as land restoration, groundwater treatment, other impacts to streams and long-term environmental monitoring. 

Research Co.’s polling found more than two in three British Columbians would support the province taking a much more precautionary approach to the unfolding crisis, by increasing the amount of bonding it requires for the Elk Valley coal mines in order to protect taxpayers.

“British Columbians are worried they’re going to be left with the bill to clean up this mess, and they want to see their government doing more to protect them from that risk,” says Casey Brennan, Conservation Director at Wildsight.

‘Bonds’ or reclamation securities, are a form of financial assurance that the province requires of mining companies to ensure that polluters, rather than taxpayers, pay for the environmental restoration and remediation of their mines, in case of emergency or default. 

Over three quarters of British Columbians (79%) support B.C. requiring all mining companies operating in the province to provide up-front monetary guarantees, or ‘bonding’, to cover the entire cost of any future clean-up for a given mining operation.

Make full bonding a condition of Teck-Glencore sale

Canada is currently reviewing the proposed sale of Teck’s Elk Valley coal mines to Swiss mining giant Glencore under the Investment Canada Act. While it’s not expected to reject the sale, it does have the ability to require conditions be met before approving deals like this one, which affect how publicly-owned natural resources are exploited. 

Research Co.’s polling shows 81% of British Columbians want Canada to require Glencore to provide financial guarantees or bonding for the full amount of any future environmental clean-up costs before it approves the acquisition. And more than two thirds of British Columbians (69%) agree that amount should be at least $6.4 billion, until further independent review confirms the actual costs. 

We cannot allow Teck to use the sale of these mines as a way to increase its share price through the shedding of toxic, high-carbon-risk assets, while leaving taxpayers holding a bag full of polluted waters and decimated lands.

Teck has stated it plans to buy back up to half a billion in stock this year, with some financial analysts predicting they could buy back as much as $2.5 billion after the sale goes through. Surely Teck and Glencore should be required to provide adequate financial security for the clean up of these operations before rewarding stockholders and executives with stock price windfalls.

Glencore’s dubious environmental past

Research Co.’s polling showed that 71% of British Columbians have little or no confidence in foreign companies like Glencore, and their skepticism is well-founded. 

Glencore has a terrible track record globally and has publicly stated it intends to sell off its coal operations to unknown foreign owners within two years. 

BC’s 2023 Chief Inspector of Mines Report indicates that Glencore currently owns four former mines in various states of closure, several of which continue to leach toxic mining byproducts into nearby salmon spawning habitat, and only one of which is fully bonded. Even locally, Glencore displays a lack of concern for both the environment and British Columbians.

Teck and Glencore have both committed to the International Council on Mining and Metals’ Nature Positive Agenda which has significant 2030 implementation targets for ecosystem health and biodiversity. The Elk Valley Resources operations are a long way from being Nature Positive, and proposed expansions/continued mining will only increase their environmental impact. Significantly more action and funding will be required in the next few years to come close to these lofty goals.

The survey results paint a picture of a population with a deep distrust of its government’s relationship to industry. Almost three quarters of British Columbians think large corporations have too much influence over politicians, and 70% don’t think large corporations pay their fair share of taxes.

Federal and provincial governments continue to heavily subsidize the mining industry with exploration tax credits, processing allowances, lower carbon taxes and other ‘incentive’ schemes. Residents want to know they’re not going to be saddled with the cost of cleaning up the mining industry’s messes on top of all their other financial burdens.

Research Co.’s poll was fielded online in mobile and desktop formats across British Columbia March 26-April 4, 2024 inclusive. A total of 1,531 interviews were completed, yielding a Bayesian credibility interval of approximately ±2.46 at a 95% confidence level. Data is weighted by latest Statistics Canada population estimates for economic region, gender, age, and education. See here for a summary of the results. 

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A new Wildsight-commissioned report has revealed it will cost at least $6.4 billion to reverse rising selenium concentrations in Canadian and United States waterways due to toxic runoff from British Columbia’s Elk Valley coal minesRead our report