- Ministry of Environment (MoE), Mary Polak, Minister
- Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM), Bill Bennett, Minister
Excerpts from AN AUDIT OF COMPLIANCE AND ENFORCEMENT OF THE MINING SECTOR, May 2016, by Carol Bellringer, with emphases added:
…protection of the environment needs to be ensured. This is only possible through strong regulatory oversight… [by] the Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM) and the Ministry of Environment (MoE)…
We found almost every one of our expectations for a robust compliance and enforcement program within the MEM and the MoE were not met.
We found major gaps in resources, planning and tools. As a result, monitoring and inspections of mines were inadequate to ensure mine operators complied with requirements…
We noted …too few resources, infrequent inspections, and lack of enforcement.
Our advice… is for government to remove its compliance and enforcement program for mining from MEM.
MEM’s role to promote mining development is diametrically opposed to compliance and enforcement. This framework, of having both activities within MEM, creates an irreconcilable conflict.
I am therefore disappointed in the resistance to this overall recommendation…
…The major risk to the environment from mining activities is water contamination from the chemical processes of acid rock drainage and heavy metal and non-metal leaching. Once these processes begin, they can continue indefinitely. In some cases, the only solution is water treatment and monitoring – in perpetuity – which can cost millions of dollars a year.
Industry is responsible for both building and maintaining these facilities indefinitely; however, the lifespan of mines and mining companies is finite, creating a risk that taxpayers may bear the costs. So, while the benefit from mining occurs for a limited time, the costs, including government’s obligation to monitor these sites, may continue for a very long time.
…ministries lack sufficient resources and tools to manage environmental risks from mining activities.
…To meet the provincial goals for new mines and mine expansions, MEM and MoE are focusing on permit applications. As a result, there are few resources dedicated to the regulatory activities of monitoring, compliance and enforcement.
…Neither ministry uses a permitting approach that reduces the likelihood taxpayers will have to pay costs associated with the environmental impacts of mining activities (known as the polluter-pays principle).
MEM is not holding an adequate amount of security to cover the estimated environmental liabilities at major mines.
…neither ministry could demonstrate that its activities and guidance materials were effective in achieving voluntary compliance or government’s environmental outcomes.
…Neither MEM nor MoE are conducting adequate monitoring and site inspections and neither have assessed how this is impacting risks.
Both MEM’s and MoE’s enforcement responses have significant deficiencies and MEM’s enforcement tools are in some cases, ineffectual.
..Neither MEM nor MoE have adequately evaluated the effectiveness of their -regulatory programs…
…We found that the ministry did not ensure that the tailings dam was being built or operated according to the approved design, nor did it ensure that the mining company rectified design and operational deficiencies. MEM continued to allow the mine to operate and to approve permit amendments to raise the tailings dam…
MEM did not use most of these enforcement mechanisms to compel the mine operator to build or operate the dam as designed and intended.
Elk Valley Coal Mines
Lack of sufficient and effective regulatory oversight and action by MoE to address known environmental issues has allowed degradation of water quality in the Elk Valley. Coal mining… has resulted in high concentrations of selenium in the water system. As selenium accumulates up the food chain, it can affect
the development and survival of birds and fish, and may also pose health risks to humans.
…MoE has been monitoring selenium levels in the Elk Valley and over that time has noted dramatic annual increases of selenium in the watershed’s tributaries. MoE tracked this worsening trend, but took no substantive action to change it…
MoE staff, with input from external experts, concluded that the selenium levels in the proposed [Teck] Line Creek Expansion Permit were not likely protective of the environment. The statutory decision-maker could not approve the permit. Subsequently, the permit was granted by Cabinet. This was the first time that Cabinet used this approval process. The rationale for the decision was not publicly disclosed…
…The ministry has not disclosed these risks to legislators and the public…