A second, damning federal report on a proposed mine west of Williams Lake, BC, amid Tsilhqot’in First Nation territory, should sound the gold and copper mine’s death knell.
The report, which follows five weeks of hearings earlier this year into an updated version of the mine proposal, states:
[quote]…the New Prosperity Project would result in several significant adverse environmental effects; the key ones being effects on water quality in Fish Lake (Teztan Biny), on fish and fish habitat in Fish Lake, on current use of lands and resources for traditional purposes by certain Aboriginal groups, and on their cultural heritage.[/quote]
Strong words from the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, which suggest the “New” Prosperity Mine proposal did little to address the reasons its predecessor was rejected by Federal Environment Minister Jim Prentice in 2010.
The Panel also foresaw a “significant adverse cumulative effect on the South Chilcotin grizzly bear population, unless necessary cumulative effects mitigation measures are effectively implemented.”
The report will now be referred to the federal Cabinet for the final decision.
Taseko vows to keep digging
While the Panel’s findings were celebrated as a “victory” by local First Nations – who came out 100% against the project throughout the recent hearings – the company downplayed the report’s impact and vowed to press on with the project.
Taseko Vice President and project spokesperson Brian Battinson told the CBC this morning, “The report, in many respects, agrees with our assessment – the risks are modest and the social and economic benefits are enormous.”
But in the scientific lexicon, “significant adverse effects” do not equate to “modest” risks. It was this sort of language in a previous report that killed the mine’s first iteration. So what Battinson and company are counting on is disproportionate weight being given to the “enormous” economic benefits they’re touting for the project.
Jobs vs. Environment
Taseko may be right, given the political climate in Ottawa and Victoria. We know that Premier Christy Clark has been pressing the Harper Government to approve the mine and the Prime Minister has made no bones about his commitment to “extractive industries” as the cornerstone for Canada’s economy.
The decision will likely come down to whether the federal Cabinet agrees with Mr. Battinson’s risk-vs.-reward characterization – i.e. whether the impacts are as minimal and the job benefits as “enormous” as he contends.
But should it? Is it acceptable to contaminate a lake, potentially destroy fish populations, trample on the rights and quality of life of local First Nations, seriously threaten grizzly populations…so long as enough jobs are created?
Worth the risk for Harper?
Moreover, in the “risk” column lies more than just environmental impacts. Stephen Harper seems to have recognized of late that some of the key energy projects on which he’s basing his economic vision – the proposed Enbridge and Kinder Morgan oil pipelines to BC’s coast – have been severely undermined by his tone-deaf approach to First Nations.
In redering their verdict on the New Propsperity Mine, Cabinet will have to weigh out the broader political implications of overruling not just their own government panel’s report, but the strong objections of First Nations. The latter would further undermine Harper’s efforts to win First Nations’ approval for proposed pipeline projects in BC.
My bet is Harper will wisely cut Taseko loose.