Province signs agreement to have its review stand in for federal assessment, but critics say the federal reviews are far more robust and allow more public input
The British Columbia mining industry still doesn’t have what it wants: an environmental assessment process that happens once with one, final decision. But it’s getting closer. A long complaint of the industry has been the duplication of the complex and often lengthy environmental assessments at the provincial and federal level.
For example, the $1.5-billion Mount Milligan gold and copper mine, under construction in north-central B.C., took four years to receive approval from back-to-back provincial and federal environmental assessments and permitting processes.
The duplicate assessments are onerous and expensive costing millions of dollars and can hurt a companies ability to time a project to when mineral prices are high.
When the Conservative federal government brought in changes in 2012 to streamline the environmental assessment process, it included a provision that allowed federal environmental assessments to no longer be conducted where a province provides an “appropriate substitute.”
Last month, the B.C. government’s Environmental Assessment Office signed an agreement with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency that allows for that substitution to take place.
Two projects have been earmarked for this substitution already: Xstrata Coal Canada’s proposed $1.8-billion Sukunka Coal project and Cardero Coal’s proposed $475-million Carbon Creek project.
Both projects are in northeastern B.C. Sukunka is 55 kilometres south of Chetwynd and Carbon Creek is 40 kilometres west of Hudson’s Hope.
Xstrata Coal Canada general manager Doug Smith said the company is looking forward to receiving a final decision from the federal government on Sukunka being granted substitution.
“It will provide Xstrata Coal with greater certainty regarding the regulatory framework we will be working within,” Smith said in an email.
Gavin Dirom, president of the Association for Mineral Exploration B.C., said substitution is a critical step in making the review process more effective and efficient.
“This is very good news. It’s been in the works for years. It should make the process less onerous for everyone involved,” he said.
However, substitution still requires the province and federal government to separately come to a final decision on the project. And that stops short of the B.C. mining sector’s wish for one review process and one decision.
Dirom says it’s a concern because it still opens up the possibility the two jurisdictions could come to different conclusions: one saying the project can go ahead, the other saying no.
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