VICTORIA — B.C. mines minister Bill Bennett says he was caught off guard when he learned that the province’s mining companies are on the hook for less than half the amount that should be set aside to pay for potential cleanup costs.
More than 50 mining operations – the majority of them either permanently shut down or temporarily shuttered – have been allowed by Mr. Bennett’s ministry to provide security for only a portion of the anticipated liability for site reclamation, with a total funding gap of $1.2-billion.
The gap was highlighted by Auditor-General Carol Bellringer in a report early in May, but the ministry took several weeks to provide details on the individual companies that have not provided bonds large enough to cover environmental restoration. The breakdown shows one resource company – Teck Resources Ltd. – was responsible for $743-million of the deficit. Barrick Gold Corp. had the second-largest unpaid amount, at $212-million.
Mr. Bennett said in an interview he was not aware of the details until the Auditor-General raised the matter because he had left such decisions to the chief mines inspector.
“I was surprised by the magnitude of the numbers. I know everyone assumes that ministers make all the decisions and know absolutely everything, but this issue was dealt with by the statutory decision-makers,” he said. “I have accepted the responsibility to come up with a plan to change how we calculate financial security and get it up to a point where the public can have more confidence in it.”
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