Environmental assessment of Cliffs Chromite project is off the rails – by Ramsey Hart (rabble.ca – January 18, 2013)

http://rabble.ca/

Rabble.ca is a left-wing news website and Ramsey Hart is the Canada Program Coordinator at MiningWatch Canada.

If you follow mining in Canada you’ve certainly heard about the much hyped “Ring of Fire” or McFauld’s Lake area of northern Ontario. This area on the boundary of the Hudson Bay lowlands and boreal shield is Oji-cree and Cree territory. It is also where Cliffs Natural Resources and Noront Resources are proposing the first of what could be many mining projects in the remote and relatively pristine area.

MiningWatch recently had an opportunity to comment on an important document that will guide Cliffs in drafting the environmental assessment for their project, the latest draft of the Terms of Reference. As reported in the Wawatay News Cliffs initially gave First nations and “interested parties” like MiningWatch only 15 days to comment on hundreds of pages of documents.

While the company justified this by saying it was a revision of a previously released document and the revisions were minor — a careful read of the documents showed this was not the case. In response to several requests Cliffs conceded to extend the deadline on comments until January 11. Joining MiningWatch in submitting comments were the Wildlands League, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Vermillion River Stewardship.

Unlike the joint review processes we are involved with there is no public registry of submissions for this project so it’s hard to know who else may well have submitted comments. Certainly we expect some of the affected First Nations will have. Neskantaga First Nation has an outstanding request with the Ontario Government for mediation over the terms of reference.

MiningWatch, WCS and Wildlands League continued to voice demands for a broader and more participatory process — a demand that has also been made by First Nations and recommended by civil servants. MiningWatch’s comments pointed out that a joint review with the federal government would have resulted in a more efficient process of drafting the requirements by having one rather than two documents to review.

In their substance, the Terms of Reference were found to be lacking in a number of important ways. One of the principal concerns was over the exclusion of important alternatives from detailed, government and public scrutiny. An assessment of alternative ways of doing a project is a fundamental part of an environmental review process and is a requirement written into the environmental assessment act. Cliffs has said, however, that they’ve already ruled out most of the significant alternatives and are only proposing to review a small number of minor variations in the assessment.

For the rest of this column, please go to the rabble.ca website: http://rabble.ca/blogs/bloggers/miningwatch/2013/01/environmental-assessment-cliffs-chromite-project-rails

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