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CANADIAN MINING PERSPECTIVES: Lawsuit targets Canada’s “toxic tailings secret”

As snow blankets Eastern Canada, it has covered a multitude of dirty little secrets in my yard. There are unraked l...



As snow blankets Eastern Canada, it has covered a multitude of dirty little secrets in my yard. There are unraked leaves underneath. The untrimmed perennials look lovely in their fluffy robes. The clean, white snow looks better than the patchy grass it now hides.

Some problems, notably those of an environmental nature, cannot be so cheaply covered up. ECOJUSTICE (formerly the Sierra Legal Defence Fund) filed a lawsuit last month demanding that the Canadian mining industry be included in requirements to report the amount of pollution it creates.

Instead, our miners have an exemption from the National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI), say Ecojustice. It is a publicly accessible database (www.EC.gc.ca/pdb/npri) containing information on pollutants released and the transfer of recyclable materials. The reporting requirement has been around since 1993. Over 300 different toxic substances, smog pollutants and similar material must be reported by any facility employing 10 or more people.

The lawsuit was filed against Canada’s minister of environment John Baird on behalf of MINING WATCH CANADA and GREAT LAKES UNITED. It claims the minister broke the law because he told mining companies they did not have to file reports with the NPRI.

Mine operators have regularly filed NPRI statements as recently as 2006. If Minister Baird communicated the suggestion that they no longer have to do so, it is certainly not reflected in any presentation, press release or search result from ENVIRONMENT CANADA’s website. Perhaps he had good reason: the reporting requirements for mining may already exceed those for the NPRI.

The point is not to debate Minister Baird’s actions or intent, it is to bemoan the filing of another lawsuit by environmental activists. The press releases from Ecojustice paint the problem in the worst possible light. A person who knows nothing about mining must be frightened by allegations of “hundreds of millions of kilos of toxic mining waste being kept secret from the Canadian public.”

How do you keep a tailings management area secret? It usually covers the largest area at any mine site.

This is not a situation that calls for lawyering. The reality of mine wastes is an opportunity to educate the public. The industry and its professional associations must redouble their efforts yet again to reach Canada’s city dwellers with the message that mining is a positive practice in the long run. Urbanites need to know how many new technologies are in use to mitigate environmental impact, and how successful they are. The technology that improves the mining industry is creating an industry of its own.

I would ask Ecojustice to drop its lawsuit. The money would better be spent on solving environmental problems than debating them.


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