New Prosperity – Same Old Result: Revisiting Taseko’s Gold-Copper Mine Proposal

Two years ago, another MEnv student wrote about the Prosperity mine in British Columbia. This was a mining project which was approved in the BC provincial environmental assessment process in 2009 but rejected in the federal process. Within the post, the student writes “an in depth comparison shall be necessary once the environmental impact assessment is officially completed under the CEAA 2012”, and two years later, the results are in! In February 2012, a decision statement was issued by the Canadian Minister of the Environment, Leona Aglukkaq, stating that Taseko (the proponent) once again would not be granted permission for development [1]. After reviewing and writing a 7000 word paper on the most recent environmental impact statement submitted to the review panel by Taseko, it was not surprising to me why their project was denied approval.

Taseko attempted to deal with the concerns raised in 2009 about fish habitat by implementing new mitigation measures to preserve some of the habitat which originally would have been destroyed, explained through this video.

If you’re pressed for time, skip ahead to 5:40 where Taseko claims that their tailings pond will create suitable habitat for fish. Unfortunately for Taseko, much of the science underpinning this claim came into question during the review process. A study of the project’s tailings storage facility launched by Natural Resources Canada found a seepage rate eleven times higher than the predicted values in the environmental assessment [2].

Taseko have also failed to obtain free, prior, and informed consent from First Nations within the region, something considered to be part of best practice in mining [3]. The mitigation measures implemented by Taseko in their New Prosperity proposal did not do enough to convince the Tsilhqot’in First Nations that the project is safe. This was exemplified by Chief William who stated that “the Tsilhqot’in Nation remains unified in its opposition to this project because of the tremendous destruction it would mean for critical traditional lands and waters and the cultural survival of the Tsilhqot’in people”[4].  The Tsilhqot’in made history in 2014 when the Supreme Court of Canada upheld its land title claim to 1700 square kilometers [5]. Making the matter even more confusing is that the granted land claim shows that the New Prosperity mine is not directly on Tsilhqot’in territory, leading Taseko to believe their project should now move forward [6]. This is an example of how an overarching agreement, such as the James Bay Northern Quebec Agreement (JBNQA) in Quebec, between government and First Nations, would not only benefit private industry but also help in protecting the traditions and cultures of First Nations.

Tsilhqot’in protest the Prosperity mine

New Prosperity is an example of a project which is a risk to the environment. Questionable science has been used, and I believe the proper decision was made. However, like a child who won’t take no for an answer, Taseko is filing a lawsuit against the federal government. They are seeking damages for the rejection of their project. The legitimacy of EIA might be questioned if a project is rejected and companies receive damages for money spent on projects prior to approval. As Tim Timberg, lawyer for the federal Environment Minister put it, “the real remedy Taseko seeks remains the same – to quash these administrative decisions and allow them to proceed with the construction of the proposed mine” [7]. This mining project is not only important for the area where it will be built, but also will speak volumes about the legitimacy and integrity of environmental assessment in Canada. Will Taseko be granted another chance for approval due to their increasing legal pressures on the federal government? Only time will tell…

References

[1] Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. (2014, February 25). Decision Statement Issued under Section 54 of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012. Retrieved February 8th 2015, from http://www.ceaa-acee.gc.ca/050/document-eng.cfm?document=98458

[2] Natural Resources Canada. (2013, July 4). Numerical Modeling of Groundwater Seepage from the Tailings Storage Facility of the Proposed Taseko New Prosperity Gold-Copper Mine Project. Retrieved February 8th 2015, from http://www.ceaa-acee.gc.ca/050/documents/p63928/90733E.pdf

[3] International Council on Mining and Metals. (2015). 10 Principles. Retrieved February 8th 2015, from http://www.icmm.com/our-work/sustainable-development-framework/10-principles

[4] Zilker, Wolfgang. (2013, June 20). Tsilhqot’in Nation Prepares for Public Hearings for Controversial New Prosperity Mine Proposal as Taseko Mines Ltd. Refuses to Answer Direct Requests from the Panel. Retrieved February 8th 2015, from http://www.protectfishlake.ca/letters/2013-06/tsilhqot-146-in-nation-prepares-for-public-hearings-for-controversial-new-prosperity-mine-proposal-as-taseko-mines-ltd-refuses-to-answer-direct-requests-from-the-panel.php

[5] CBC News. (2014, June 26). Tsilhqot’in First Nation granted B.C. title claim in Supreme Court ruling. Retrieved February 8th 2015, from http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/tsilhqot-in-first-nation-granted-b-c-title-claim-in-supreme-court-ruling-1.2688332

[6] Klein, Greg. (2014, June 26). Taseko Says Land Claims Ruling Shows New Prosperity Outside Aboriginal Territory. Retrieved February 8th 2015, from http://resourceclips.com/2014/06/26/taseko-says-land-claims-ruling-shows-new-prosperity-outside-aboriginal-territory/

[7] Moore, Dene. (2014, October 22). Taseko says Environment Minister’s rejection of B.C. mine improper. Retrieved February 8th 2015, from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/taseko-says-environment-ministers-rejection-of-bc-mine-improper/article21250492/