My Turn: Doing mining differently up north – by Lewis Rifkind (The Juneau Empire – April 29, 2016)

Lewis Rifkind is a mining analyst for Yukon Conservation Society.

British Columbia Minister of Energy and Mines Bill Bennett’s response to Alaskans’ growing concerns about the downstream effects of mining in BC has usually been to defend the BC mine permitting process, invite more Alaskan participation in the process and then accuse Alaskans of having an inadequate understanding of the BC mine review and regulatory regime.

Alaskans have rightly bristled at these statements, noting that the BC process has resulted in more than 50 years of acid mine drainage from the Tulsequah Chief and the Mount Polley tailings dam disaster. Alaskans formally asked for a federal Panel Review of the KSM mine proposal, but these requests were ignored. So, it makes sense that Alaskans do not trust the BC process.

And, despite Bennett’s defense of the BC process, there are clear examples of ways to do it better.

Contrast the BC process that approved the KSM mine with the ongoing mine review process of the Casino Mine in the Yukon Territories. Public comments on KSM focused on the large and complex water treatment system, safety of tailings dams, monitoring and maintenance over the very long term and contingency plans for tailings dam failures. Most of these questions are still unanswered. Requests for a more rigorous federal Panel Review were ignored.

The British Columbia environmental assessments have, to date, approved extremely large mines that even the most gung-ho resource developer has to admit will leave a toxic legacy for generations to come. Huge tailings dams are being built upstream of salmon habitat, and when those dams fail, the impacts on the salmon will be disastrous.

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