By Calvin Sandborn. Dean, University of Victoria, Environmental Law Centre
The muddy torrent that ripped down Mount Polley dam and turned gentle Hazeltine Creek into a toxic canyon also did something else: It swept away a decade of empty government boasts about environmental stewardship.
The recent Auditor General report on compliance and enforcement of the mining sector pulls no punches about the state of mine regulation: “The ministry is deficient in carrying out most of the expected regulatory activities. … On several occasions in the last 10 years, ministry staff told higher-level management that inadequate monitoring and inspection, due to insufficient staffing levels, was putting the province at risk.”
And risk became reality at Mount Polley. Auditor General Carol Bellringer was particularly damning on the province’s regulation of Mount Polley, stating: “We noted the same issues in the Mount Polley file as we did throughout the audit — that is, too few resources, infrequent inspections, and lack of enforcement.”
…Alaska and Quebec handle this better. They require companies to put up security for 100 per cent of potential cleanup costs. They believe that companies, not taxpayers, should clean up their own mess. As a result, the Teck Resources mine in northern Alaska is fully bonded for $560 million in reclamation costs, and Alaska taxpayers are protected. But B.C. doesn’t require the same company to protect B.C. taxpayers. Across the province, Teck mines have unsecured reclamation costs of over $700 million. …