Feds should pursue stronger EA on Ring of Fire – by Steve May (Sudbury Star – August 21, 2013)

The Sudbury Star is the City of Greater Sudbury’s daily newspaper.

Letter to the Editor

Kenora MP Greg Rickford, minister of Science and Technology, with responsibilities for FedNor and the Ring of Fire, was in Greater Sudbury last week to discuss resource development in northwestern Ontario.

Rickford says he wants to push partisan politics aside and begin a process of “thorough consultation”. This new approach from Stephen Harper’s Conservative government is long over due.

The extraction of mineral resources in the remote Ring of Fire represents a multibillion-dollar enterprise, potentially creating thousands of jobs throughout the North. The challenges are significant –but the boost to the North’s economy (and the province) may be worth the investment of public dollars on capital projects, such as a rail or road access.

With comparisons being made between the Ring of Fire and Alberta’s oil sands, it’s no wonder that environmentalists and First Nations communities are wary of runaway development decisions being made by governments without due consideration of future impacts. While bitumen mining in northern Alberta has brought economic growth, it has also created significant social and environmental issues that will likely remain for centuries. To avoid similar negative impacts, a truly comprehensive and consultative environmental assessment process needs to be priority number one.

However, until now, the Conservative government has seemed content to put itself at odds with environmental organizations and First Nations. As a result, the government has needlessly contributed to the delaying development in the Ring of Fire.

Environmentalists and First Nations leaders instigated a judicial review of the federal government’s paper-based environmental assessment process, demanding this precedent-setting project deserves a more robust form of assessment. In part, this review has led Cliffs Natural Resources, the Ohio-based multinational which is seeking to develop its Black Thor deposit in the Ring, to call a temporary halt to its environmental assessment. If a judge rules that the current environmental assessment process is inadequate, Cliffs will need to go back to square one and follow a new process.

This spring, the court ruled that the federal government and Cliffs were causing “unnecessary delay” in the judicial review proceedings, after filing failed motions against First Nations participants. This kind of legal bullying is hardly the sort of relationship-building needed to bring diverse stakeholders together to find a way forward.

Clearly, there hasn’t been a lot of co-operation up to this point. There’s simply too much at stake for Northern Ontario if we don’t get this right. We have but one chance to lay the groundwork for how this important mineral development will proceed. The principle of sustainable development must be at the heart development in the Ring of Fire. This includes the sort of “thorough consultation” envisioned now by Rickford.

If the Conservative government is serious about moving forward with the Ring of Fire in a non-partisan and consultative way, they could back up their words with real actions, and require a more thorough and consultative environmental assessment process.

Steve May Greater Sudbury

For the original version, click here: http://www.thesudburystar.com/2013/08/21/feds-should-pursue-stronger-ea-on-ring-of-fire

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