Who pays to clean up old mines? Our mine reclamation security system is supposed to make sure mine owners pay to clean up their mine sites and downstream pollution, but there are so many exceptions, secrets, weak policies and backroom deals, that mine owners across the province are profiting while BC taxpayers cover the long-term cleanup risk.
Mine owners provide cleanup cost estimates with little review or oversight. Those estimates are kept secret from the public—we don’t know what’s in them, but we have good reason to believe they are far too low to pay for all the costs. Even then, mine owners in BC haven’t even put up half their total estimated cleanup cost.
BC is revising this policy, after the Auditor General called out the broken system in 2016, but the changes being considered are just window dressing and won’t change the fundamentals—and won’t make sure that polluters pay.
BC needs mine owners to let the public know what their reclamation plans are and how much they will cost. We need mine owners to provide full financial guarantees to cover costs for the long-term, and we need the mining industry to pay into a fund to cover environmental disasters, like Mount Polley, if the mine owner can’t pay.
In other places, mining companies have to put up all of their reclamation costs up front. In Alaska, Teck has put up more money for the full cleanup cost of one ten-year-old mine than they have for all 13 of their mines in BC, including the five huge mountaintop removal coal mines in the Elk Valley. Teck is nearly $900 million short in putting up funds to cover the estimated cleanup cost in the Elk Valley—on an estimate that is very unlikely to cover the true costs of long-term water treatment for centuries.
BC deserves better. We need mine owners to pay for clean up, so taxpayers don’t end up footing the bill, or worse: clean up never happens. Send a message to Minister Mungall before November 8th!