Mining and Climate Change, Part 1: Toward a Sustainable Future – by Steve May (SudburySteve.blogspot.com – April 13, 2012)

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Steve May is the CEO of the Sudbury Federal Green Party Association (Opinions expressed in this blog are my own, and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views of the Green Party of Canada – Steve May)

When people think about how Canada’s resource sector is driving economic growth, we tend to first think about the extraction of fossil fuels, such as oil and gas. Certainly, the stories about Canada’s growing fossil fuel sector are constantly found throughout the mainstream media, and tar sands petroleum companies have even been placing their own television and print media ads, in a public relations effort intended to combat negative environmental perceptions.

But there’s been a low-key success story which many Canadians aren’t aware of in one of Canada’s natural resource sectors. The mining industry has been quietly booming in Canada for some time now, and the future continues to look very bright (see: “Canada’s mining boom takes a back seat to no industry”, Globe and Mail, April 4, 2012). The mining industry’s success story doesn’t come as a surprise to Sudburians, and Northern Ontarians, because we see those successes almost daily. However, for other Canadians, especially those living in large urban centres, mining remains a somewhat remote afterthought.

Mining: the Bedrock of Sudbury’s Success

Sudbury’s history is the history of local mining. While first established as a Jesuit mission (known as Ste-Anne-des-Pins, named after St. Anne, who also happens to be the patron saint of miners), Sudbury started to grow first as a lumber camp, and then as a mining centre after nickel and copper ore were discovered here as the result of blasting and excavation work on the CP rail line in the late 1800s. With significant deposits of ore to mine, abundant wood needed to fuel processing plants, and a significant transportation link to urban markets in the form of a railway, Sudbury’s success was assured, and today Sudbury finds itself one of the top 5 mining cities in the world. Sudbury continues to lead the way in the development of new technologies for exploration (including space-based exploration initiatives, something which I find personally exciting).

My City has seen a lot of benefit from mining, and continues to benefit as industries grow and expand. While the depletion of local resources is never far from anyone’s mind, we are reassured that proven reserves should keep us busy here for many more decades yet. In the meantime, our mining supply and exploration industries have become regional and global leaders. With Northwestern Ontario’s Ring of Fire located relatively close by, there is significant optimism about the future.

Right now, rumour has it that Cliffs Natural Resources, an Ohio-based mining company, is getting set to announce that Greater Sudbury will be the home to its proposed new chromite smelter, to be located at a former iron ore mine site located outside of the Capreol community. Cliffs investment in Greater Sudbury may bring along with it as many as 400 new jobs. While there remains a level of uncertainty regarding the cost of this project to taxpayers (given the massive energy requirements needed to fuel the arc furnace – the same energy needed for a city of 300,000 people), and environmental issues pertaining to air and water quality will need to be addressed (see my earlier blogpost, “Clffs Chromite Project and the Environmental Assessment Process: Time Will Tell”, October 24, 2011), locating the new smelter facility in the City enjoys significant local support.

Looking Towards the Future

Yes, the future of Canada’s mining industry appears to be a pretty bright one, especially in the north. Changes brought about by a changing climate will create both opportunities and challenges for mining, but with global demands for materials expected to continue for some time, we can expect resource exploitation to grow, along with the mining sector’s contribution to Canada’s economy.

It’s fair to say that the future success of Canada’s mining sector is going to impact us all, and not necessarily in a positive way. Environmentalists and others have long raised very real issues with the massive environmental degradation left behind by industry. That’s something which we here in Greater Sudbury know a lot about, and one look at our soot-stained rocks leaves no doubt that historical mining practices were very hard on the environment.

It’s important now that, as we move ahead into a future which will include a more prominent role for Canada’s mining sector, we construct the right framework for a more sustainable approach to mining. Increasingly, recycling of materials is going to have a more significant role in our economy, but the fact is that miners are going to continue to pull wealth out of the ground in Canada for decades, if not centuries, to come, mostly from northern areas which include some of the most pristine environments in our nation.

Over the next couple of blogposts, I’m intending to look at just one issue which I believe is going to form a critical component of getting things right with the future of mining in Canada. My starting point for this discussion is my belief that carbon pricing is inevitable in Canada, given the strong desire which Canadians have for taking action on climate change. With this as my starting point, I believe that it’s very important that Canada adopts the right policies. The wrong policies would not only be bad for Canada in a general way, but they could put Canada’s mining sector at a disadvantage.

In my next few posts, I’ll take a look at the policies of the governing Conservative Party, and those of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, the NDP. I’ll also look at why it’s important that we match good intentions with good public policy

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