Opinion: The mining problem Canada wants to ignore – The Globe and Mail

The Line Creek mine, situated roughly 25 kilometres north of Sparwood in southeastern B.C.Handout
Thomas Axworthy is the general public coverage chair at Massey School on the College of Toronto. Wyatt Petryshen is the mining coverage and impacts researcher at Wildsight, a corporation working to guard biodiversity in British Columbia’s Southern Rocky Mountain and Columbia areas.
International Affairs Canada and the U.S. State Division will maintain their biannual assembly over the week of Oct. 17, and there’s a important matter that the Canadian authorities would apparently wish to preserve off the agenda.
In B.C.’s Southern Rocky Mountains, coal mines are leaching heavy metals from mine waste rock piles, poisoning the rivers and lakes of the huge transboundary Elk-Kootenay watershed that B.C. shares with Montana and Idaho.
This isn’t a narrative about stopping mines. In reality, the “ask” is so affordable it’s laborious to grasp why anybody – together with the mining firm – wouldn’t agree.
The issue is selenium – a hint ingredient important within the human physique in tiny portions however catastrophic in massive quantities. Selenium is leaching from the waste rock piles generated by Teck Sources’ Elk Valley mines in extraordinary portions.
Selenium ranges in rivers and lakes at the moment are many instances the protected restrict – particularly throughout the U.S. border, inflicting mutations and reproductive issues in fish, and if concentrations proceed to rise, posing a possible threat to human well being.
Western mining increase places salmon species in danger, research warns
The six governments of the transboundary Ktunaxa Nation, which incorporates 4 in Canada and two in the US, have been elevating the alarm for greater than 10 years. In that point, Teck’s coal gross sales have accounted for $2.5-billion of its $3.2-billion second-quarter gross income in 2022. The corporate has constructed lively water remedy services, however they’ve been inadequate in halting the growing selenium ranges coming into the Elk-Kootenay watershed. Teck has but to publicly disclose the share of mine-contaminated waters they deal with month-to-month.
Every passing day sends extra selenium into this transboundary watershed, including to the fallout that can take centuries to clear. Closing the mines will not be an choice – they’re a large financial generator and the metallurgical coal produced is at present required to fabricate metal. In addition to, we’d like Teck to extend the mitigation work already below means.
We actually don’t want extra poisonous deserted mines as a struggle over cleanup drags on. We’ve sufficient of these already.
The transboundary Ktunaxa Nation desires the matter referred to the Worldwide Joint Fee (IJC), which exists to deal with such points below the Boundary Waters Treaty. The thought is to create an Indigenous-led watershed board, consisting of events and high specialists, to seek out options for the selenium drawback.
The U.S. State Division has requested for a joint referral with Canada for over a yr. A joint referral would include each governments instructing the IJC to type a watershed board for the Elk-Kootenay watershed. The six IJC commissioners – three Canadian, three American – wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unanimously requesting the identical. U.S. President Joe Biden has endorsed the request. Environmentalists and scientists all agree on the necessity.
The Kootenay Transboundary Coalition is a bunch of NGOs, together with Wildsight, that has been working to resolve the selenium contamination drawback within the Elk-Kootenay watershed. The coalition requested Teck – which publicizes its company accountability, environmental management, and respectful relations with Indigenous peoples – to declare its help for the referral. As an indication of fine religion, Teck was additionally requested to press pause on any new mine growth plans – not a giant deal, given the years-long timeframe it could take for proposals to get by means of the Environmental Evaluation course of.
In its written response, Teck didn’t reply to the request, but it surely clearly emphasised its dedication to working with all stakeholders to deal with the selenium contamination drawback.
This leaves the federal and B.C. governments. One may suppose they’d be on board. The referral could be according to their said commitments to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and environmental safety, and the mines would proceed to function.
One could be mistaken. This summer season, the transboundary Ktunaxa Nation acquired a letter from International Affairs saying a call to reject the referral. Authorities ministers instantly backtracked within the face of shock from the Ktunaxa Nation – saying there was no remaining resolution, however no indication of help for a referral was offered.
So, it’s a good wager that International Affairs would love this to go away on the subsequent assembly. However, after being ignored for a yr, the U.S. State Division will seemingly produce other plans.
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