Mining’s real cost – by Marilyn Baptiste (Prince George Citizen – May 23, 2016)

Marilyn Baptiste is a councillor with the Xeni Gwet’in First Nations Government in the Nemiah Valley, west of Williams Lake.

British Columbians now know that they are on the hook for cleaning up mining messes to the tune of hundreds of dollars for every man, woman and child in the province.

This certainly comes as no surprise to First Nations. Most British Columbians never experience the impacts of mining, but First Nations are all too familiar with seeing our lands taken and destroyed, our waters polluted, our fish and wildlife reduced, our rights and title ignored, our cultures undermined and our very way of life and future generations threatened.

The more puzzling question is this: why is the Liberal government of B.C. not rushing to hold mining companies accountable and responsible for the damage they can and do cause? It is not as if it is unaware of the problem, thanks to two detailed reports.

First, B.C. Auditor General Carol Bellringer issued a scathing report that put unfunded liabilities for mine clean-ups and remediation work in B.C. at $1 billion. She also found B.C.’s underfunded monitoring system is failing to ensure mines are environmentally safe and meeting the conditions imposed on them when they got their permits.

Two weeks later, a detailed analysis by highly-respected economist Robyn Allan was released by the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, demonstrating that when everything is factored in, including clean-up costs for abandoned mines, taxpayers are liable for $1.575 billion. That almost equals the $1.7 billion being added for school building and maintenance in B.C. this year. Allan says this liability only takes us to 2014, when B.C. stopped releasing figures. It could be higher given a spate of accidents since then, including the Mount Polley tailings dam collapse.

Perhaps more alarming, Allan’s report demonstrates that failing to ensure the industry is liable for its own mistakes and messes encourages bad mining. The drive to minimize costs and maximize profits is powerful and if companies know they might never have to pay for mistakes, they are more likely to ignore best practices and take risks.

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