Mining expert slams government initiatives

Joan Kuyek talks about externalities. Hang on a moment — don’t flip the page. This is important.

Joan Kuyek talks about externalities.

Hang on a moment — don’t flip the page.

This is important.

Externalities are the nasties that market economists conveniently ignore when determining the worth of, say, gas or copper or gold.

“Externalities” is a $50 catch-all word for things like waste, pollution or community well-being — social costs that currently have no dollar value when talking about resource development.

“A mine is going to last nine to 10 years,” Kuyek, national co-ordinator with MiningWatch Canada, said in an interview Thursday.

“You’re going to have tailings and waste rock to deal with forever, and the community needs time to determine what it wants,” said Kuyek.

“We’re not anti-mining; we just want to see respect for the damage that is caused by mining.

“We want to see respect for the full cost of the metals that we take for granted.

“The cost of a gold ring is enormous.

“Thirty to 70 tonnes of waste rock in tailings. People get injured mining this stuff. You’ve got downstream impacts in the water forever.

“That has to be given as much weight as the importance of that gold.”

Originally from the mining town of Sudbury, Ontario, and now based in Ottawa, Kuyek visited the Yukon this week at the invitation of federal Natural Resources minister Gary Lunn.

Lunn came to the territory to tour Yukon mines and chair meetings of regional ministers of mines and energy.

The National Orphaned and Abandoned Mine initiative, a non-governmental organization, is traditionally invited to attend such conferences, said Kuyek.

Ottawa used to fund the NGO’s trip, but that’s changed under the new Conservative government, she said.

Kuyek and some industry types from the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada toured the Brewery Creek Mine near Dawson City with Yukon government officials.

The tailings, benches and rubble coils surrounding Dawson are “awesome, in terms of the range of their impact,” she said.

And the Brewery Creek reclamation project, being conducted by Alexco Resources Corp, is a tribute to what happens when First Nations are involved and an $8 million bond is in place, “so companies can’t walk away without fixing it.”

There are lessons to be learned from the Faro mine which could cost $500 million to reclaim, she said.

“Yukon has a very good mine reclamation policy, but it’s only a policy and it’s not enshrined in the legislation or on the water licences.

“Nobody is requiring people to follow the mine reclamation policy.

“The policy is good because it says you have to have a reclamation bond based on third party cleanup, and perpetual monitoring in place before the mine proceeds.

“But it’s not enshrined in law. Who is going to enforce it?”

Large mining companies are better to work with than junior mining companies, because they have assets to cover their liability if something goes wrong, she said.

Either way, governments have an obligation to protect the public interest, and Canadian governments are shying away from that responsibility, said Kuyek.

“The responsibility of government is to sustain the natural capital of our country for generations to come. Their responsibility is to the future.

“What they need to be doing is balancing different forms of economic development and different kinds of environmental protection and social and cultural development for the interests of future generations.

“But that’s not, in fact, what happens.

“Because corporate interests are so strong, they basically determine the discourse.

“The discourse, in terms of economic development, is only in terms of things that can be measured in dollars.

“Once you do that, everything else becomes an externality.”

Kuyek uses the term “regulatory capture” to describe the relationship between industry players and government officials when regulations are crafted that are favourable to industry.

“They plan these things together. They do studies, funded by government, and then they make decisions.

“The cozy relationship in this country between the Mining Association of Canada and the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada and the provincial or territorial associations is really disturbing.

“And when the industry can’t get its way by being nice and friendly, they get aggressive.

“They make threats about moving their mining elsewhere.”

Kuyek acknowledged that there is overlap between various jurisdictions in regulating industry.

But the stated intention of the Yukon government and Ottawa to “streamline regulation” shouldn’t require a positive response to a mining proposal, she said.

“Maybe that isn’t the right answer. Maybe the answer is no, or not now, or do it differently.

“That takes time. And what we see all the time is companies come in and lay a deadline on a First Nation and on government, and everybody is scrambling to meet this artificially set deadline from the company.

“For a lot of First Nations who have more than one mining company or a lot of other development proposals on their agenda, they can’t meet those deadlines. It’s simply impossible.

“They don’t have their staff resources, they don’t have the money.”

Furthermore, the proposal from minister such as Brendan Bell, Northwest Territories minister of Mines, to impose mandatory deadlines for regulatory processes is “crap,” said Kuyek.

“Those mandatory timelines are crap, they’re artificially set up and they put more pressure on First Nations that don’t need it.”

Likewise, a newly released Mining Information Kit for Aboriginal Communities is “an insult.”

The 100-page booklet released in Whitehorse this week “doesn’t say anything that any of them couldn’t have found out anyway, and probably already know, if they’ve been dealing with mining,” she said.

“It minimizes environmental impacts, cultural impacts and social impacts.”

The Yukon government and Ottawa were taking progressive steps towards responsible, streamlined regulation with the new Yukon Environmental and Socioeconomic Assessment Act that took effect in 2005, said Kuyek.

But it did not legislate closure plans or security bonds for mines, and it should have, she said.

“I was excited when it first came forward. It looked like it was going to be really good, and I think there’s some potential in YESAA.

“But if it rushes communities and doesn’t take things seriously then it won’t work.

“Right now we really don’t know because most of the environmental assessments we’re dealing with in mines are old ones, based on the old assessment process.”

Canada’s minerals offer great wealth for somebody, said Kuyek.

“But they need to be treated with so much respect, because they are so dangerous.”

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