1 February 2008
HALIFAX - The Nova Scotia government has failed to ensure that newly approved mining operations won't cause serious environmental damage, several groups charged Friday as the province sanctioned a disputed gold venture.
The activists, representing dozens of forestry and other ecological groups throughout the province, accused the government of allowing mining companies to skirt environmental assessments by flouting regulations.
"There are significant and social risks that the government has ignored," said Tamara Lorincz of the Nova Scotia Environmental Network.
"There are many more pits and quarries planned without a comprehensive development framework in place and our communities and natural environment are at stake."
The groups said the province is so hungry to drum up business and lure mining companies that it's letting them avoid independent environmental reviews.
Critics maintain that because claims under 3.9 hectares are not required to undergo certain assessments, companies will simply carve up their proposals into smaller parcels.
Barbara Markovits of the Eastern Shore Forest Watch said shrewd companies have dodged environmental scrutiny by slicing their large projects into small pieces that fit the criteria.
"They're gaming the system," she said. "This can serve as a wakeup call to the public that something needs to be done now. We do not want ... any part of Nova Scotia to turn into a sacrifice zone."
Environment Minister Mark Parent conceded there are possible weaknesses in the regulations that allow companies to subvert them. But he said the department is reviewing the rules.
"That's a legitimate issue that we're looking at," he said. "And it's something that's being looked at in terms of whether that exemption should be removed or not."
The groups said they're particularly concerned that the Moose River open pit gold mine, which received provincial approval Friday, will lead to a host of problems involving mine effluent that can contain cyanide, arsenic and mercury.
They said the mine in the central part of the province will be located near watersheds, which they alleged could be contaminated by cyanide in the gold extraction process.
In approving the gold mine, Parent said the operators have to conduct regular monitoring and ensure complete cleanup of the site when the work is finished in about seven years.
But critics have said the process gives the company too much discretion in setting the cleanup cost and choosing the consultant to conduct the environmental assessment.
Parent defended the process, saying it would be too costly for the province to conduct the reviews and that they have to comply with rigorous standards.
The groups also accused the Tory government of failing to consult with communities directly affected by the mines.
"We need to be able to have input into where and when mines happen," said Gretchen Fitzgerald of the Sierra Club of Canada. "We have been shut out."
It's not clear how many mines and quarries there are in the province, but several members of the groups said the government is seeking out new business as the price of metal and minerals reaches record highs.
"There's furious mining activity around the world and that's why you have the Natural Resources Department going around the world promoting Nova Scotia as place to mine," said Lorincz.
Natural Resources Minister David Morse defended the province's goal of bringing in more exploration companies, citing the soaring prices of resources on world markets.
"What we have today is record high mineral prices and that is creating interest where there would have been none before," he said, adding that without extracted minerals there would be no concrete, aggregate to pave roads, or cars built with steel.
"We need the building blocks of production and some of it has to come from mining."