Is it time to clean up mining in BC?

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Here in BC, it’s obvious that we care about our environment—and we like to think that our laws reflect how we feel. But when it comes to mining, the sad truth is that our laws to protect the environment and our communities are outdated, weak or sometimes just not enforced. There’s a saying that BC is still the “wild west of mining”. Our mining laws, which haven’t been significantly updated in many decades, are set up to prioritize profits over our environment and health and we’re seeing the effects on our water, our fish and our ecosystems.

That’s why Wildsight is joining together with 33 other organizations to demand BC mining law reform. It’s time to clean up mining in BC.

Mining in BC can support the inevitable transition to a sustainable economy, but we need to fix our laws so we can mine safely and sustainably.

Our coalition has a detailed platform with ten areas that need to be fixed. There are three important reforms that our government can act on right now to stop the worst disasters, avoid pollution that will last for generations, respect local communities and indigenous rights and make sure the people of BC aren’t on the hook to clean up after mines close. Please join us in demanding our government start fixing our broken mining laws now.

We all want clean water, for our communities, for our fish and for ecosystems. But our mining laws make it far too easy for mines to create dangerous toxic waste dumps, like the one that failed at Mt. Polley. Other mines don’t have a real plan to clean up after themselves and create pollution problems that will require expensive water treatment for hundreds or thousands of years. No mining company can commit to treat toxic water for a century, let alone a millennia, but in BC just saying you’ll treat water forever is good enough to get a permit for your mine. BC must ban dangerous mine waste storage dams and ban mines that need water treatment forever.

It’s a simple principle: you make the mess, you clean it up—but in BC it’s far too easy for companies to walk away from environmental disasters or toxic sites, leaving the rest of us on the hook. In Northeastern BC, the Tulsequah Chief mine has been leaking acid runoff for 70 years. The mines’ owners—the company now known as Teck—were allowed to sell the mess they left behind and walk away—and now, decades later, BC is planning to clean it up and taxpayers have to foot the bill.

Acid rock drainage at the Tulsequah Chief Mine. After nearly 70 years, the closed mine is still polluting. Photo: Chris Miller

And does BC require sufficient bonds from Teck to reclaim the Elk Valley mines and deal with the long term pollution problem? Not even close. BC is making the same mistake made 70 years ago, but on a much bigger scale. We need to fix our reclamation bonding system to make sure that BC requires that mining companies put up enough in cash reclamation bonds to guarantee they can cover long-term mine cleanup—before they start digging.

We need fines and penalties that force polluters to do better. Fines for polluting rivers in the Elk Valley have been equal to a few minutes profits for Teck’s coal mines and expansion permits keep getting approved even though pollution limits aren’t being met. After the disaster at Mt. Polley, Imperial Metals didn’t pay a single fine and faced no charges.

Finally, we need to fix BC’s mineral claim and permitting systems. Right now, you can go online with your credit card and stake your own mineral claim, almost anywhere in the province, even on private property. If you decide to mine, you’ll find the permitting process is easy, with too little scrutiny and an attitude that environmental problems and risks are easily fixed or ignored. That’s hardly a surprise, because the same government department that is in charge of promoting mining in BC is also in charge of issuing permits for mining in BC. That’s a real conflict of interest!

Coal mining in the Elk Valley, where massive waste rock dumps leach pollution. Photo: Garth Lenz

Local communities and First Nations don’t get much say in where mining claims are allowed and where mines are permitted. Shouldn’t they? It’s time to fix our system to require indigenous consent and make sure locals have a say.

We can’t be the wild west any longer if we want to keep our environment and communities safe. Mt. Polley and the building water pollution crisis in the Elk Valley have laid bare the failures of our mining laws, but they are many more examples in every corner of the province.

Mining in BC can support the inevitable transition to a sustainable economy, but we need to fix our laws so we can mine responsibly. Let’s start by demanding the government fix these big holes in our mining laws. Add your name to clean up mining in BC today!

Header photo, Elk River by Nick Nault.