Today in the legislature I was up in Question Period. I took the opportunity to ask the government to outline the steps they are taking to address growing concerns about the lack of response to the short-term environmental, social and economic impacts stemming from the Mount Polley tailings pond breach. Below is the text of my exchange with the Minister of the Environment. I think you will find that it was a very informative discussion.
Honourable speaker, It does not serve the public interest to either overestimate or underestimate the scale of what happened at Mount Polley.
We know that on August 4th 2014, the tailings pond at Mount Polley mine breached and 25 million cubic metres of water, tailings and construction material was released into Hazleton Creek, Lake Polley and Quesnel Lake. We also know that on August 5th the Ministry of Environment issued a Pollution Abatement Order to Mount Polley Mining Corporation to comply with a detailed list of requirements pursuant to Section 83 of the Environmental Management Act.
Madame speaker, in May of this year (just weeks before the Mount Polley incident), and after extensive consultation with a variety of stakeholders, the Ministry developed both a Policy on, and accompanying Procedures for, Mitigating Impacts on Environmental Values.
My question through you, honourable speaker, to the Minister of the Environment is this:
The government has an environmental mitigation policy and procedure. Is the government applying them to Mount Polley disaster as part of the pollution abatement order. If not, why not?
I thank the member for the question. We would not ordinarily apply the environmental mitigation policy and procedure to a situation like this, simply because it’s really designed for activities that avoid, minimize, restore or offset what we see as foreseeable impacts of developments when we’re in the planning phase.
However, in this instance — and, of course, it’s unprecedented — I’m advised by staff that as they are reviewing the long-term remediation plan and the comprehensive environmental impact assessment, they’re finding that these guidelines are proving very useful as tools in order to fully develop that plan. It doesn’t directly relate, but it certainly is a part of the review that the ministry, along with other agencies, is conducting on the long-term plan.
Honourable Speaker, I recently visited the Mount Polley region.
I’ve spoken with local residents, First Nations, mining officials, limnologists, geologists, geochemists and many others. Numerous British Columbians have independently contacted me.
Honourable speaker it is clear to me that British Columbians want to know how government plans to:
My question through you to the minister is this. Will the government please outline its environmental, social and economic mitigation strategy for dealing with the repercussions of the Mount Polley tailings pond breach.
Of course, the member has very eloquently articulated just the breadth of the impact of this disaster. It really does take a holistic approach. I will touch only briefly on the responsibilities of other ministries and then outline what’s next in terms of the Ministry of Environment.
I’ve mentioned earlier on that the Ministries of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training and Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation have had people in the area working directly with communities, with First Nations. In terms of mining, I know that the Minister of Energy and Mines has been in regular conversations with leaders in the mining industry broadly about the issues this presents for them.
For us…. And it’s very important for me to acknowledge the work of some very key people, that being the Quesnel River Research Centre through UNBC and also one of our key staff people, Jennifer McGuire, who is the head of our regional operations in environmental protection.
We have, as a result, arrived at a couple of working groups, one of which, the environmental working group, you will be aware of from the letter of understanding that we have with the two First Nations. There’s also the Mount Polley science advisory panel. I’ll just quickly…. Representative scientists from DFO, MOE, FLNRO, Environment Canada. There’s industry, of course, First Nations and other university researchers.
Lastly, in the end, they will review the plan. The first phase will take us to June of 2015. The rest of the plan will take us from June of 2015 out into the future. All of that will be made public when the reviews are complete.