Today, November 7, 2011, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (the Agency) announced that Taseko Mine Ltd.’s gold and copper mine proposal, New Prosperity, will undergo a federal environmental assessment.
As we have explained, we do not think that the New Prosperity proposal is anything more than a re-packaging of the previously assessed and vehemently rejected option two of the original Prosperity Mine proposal and thus we are disappointed to learn that additional time and resources will be spent further assessing this proposed project.
One year ago, on November 2, 2010 the federal government rejected the Prosperity proposal and determined that all the alternatives examined were also insufficient in their ability to protect the environment, mitigate impacts, and minimally infringe Aboriginal rights and title in the proposed mine area. Since then, opposition to the proposal, now pitched as New Prosperity, has only grown: the Tsilqot’in National Government, the Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) as well as First Nations across Canada, and at least ten environmental and legal organizations remain firmly opposed to the proposal put forward by Taseko.
The provincial government continues to operate as though New Prosperity is already approved and, in a demonstration of its lack of respect for the federal process, just last week issued licences to Taseko that permit the building of 23.5 kilometers of road, 59 test pits and 18 drill holes.
Two weeks ago, Ms. Feldman, the president of the Agency told the federal parliamentary Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development (at lines 1205-1210), which is conducting a mandatory review of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, that Canada is faced with roughly $500 billion in potential new investment in natural resource projects in the coming years, while the Agency is faced with up to a 43% reduction in its budget (depending on decisions made about ‘sunsetting funds’ made in the 2012 budget).
In light of all the above, we think there are far more efficient and effective ways to allocate the limited resources that the Agency has been left with than re-assessing a project that has already been rejected.
However, if the Agency must go ahead with another assessment, we do support that assessment being undertaken at the review panel level. The fact that there is so much broad public and First Nations opposition to it, and the fact that the environmental impacts are still very significant and adverse to the affected lakes and the surrounding ecosystem has led the Responsible Authorities and the Minister of Environment to rightfully refer the New Prosperity proposal to a review panel under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.
It will only makes sense, in fact, that the same review panel that considered the original Prosperity Mine be reappointed. The members of that panel are already familiar with the project, and it would be best placed to determine, quickly, whether Taseko has actually addressed the concerns with the original proposal or whether, as we believe, this is essentially a re-packaged version of an already rejected option. Indeed, section 24 of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act requires that appropriate information from previous environmental assessments must be used – with necessary adjustments – in subsequent assessments. This requirement applies directly to comprehensive study and screening level environmental assessments that had been previously successfully assessed, but there are good policy reasons to extend the use of prior information from panel reports to subsequent panel reviews as well.
A review panel process with full public hearings and full funding available for public participants and First Nations is the only way to ensure that any assessment of New Prosperity is done comprehensively and in a transparent manner. We think the same panel members should be re-appointed to avoid duplication and relevant parts of the first panel report should be adopted where possible. If the federal government insists on re-assessing this proposal, we say it must be done in a manner that honours the assessment process and fully weighs the serious and irreversible environmental and cultural impacts that the New Prosperity project contemplates.
By Rachel Forbes, Staff Lawyer