|Protest in Nevada: Mining companies must pay full costs to remedy harm EVERYWHERE they operate|
by Catherine Coumans
February 3rd, 2015
In August 2014, I was in the Philippines meeting with communities negatively impacted by the operations of Canadian mining companies. I was often asked whether these same mining companies would be held to higher standards of behaviour in Canada, higher environmental standards, higher human rights standards. My answer was always the same, yes, some expectations are higher in Canada, but the risks to local environments and to local people are still very real, and for that reason there is opposition to mining in Canada, just as there is in the Philippines.
While I was still in Mindanao, making plans to go to Marinduque, word came from Canada of a terrible disaster; a tailings dam had collapsed at the modern Mount Polley copper-gold mine. 25 million tonnes of toxic tailings slurry spilled into the downstream watershed and lakes. Pristine mountain eco-systems and the livelihoods of people in downstream communities in were instantly destroyed.
This week an expert panel report blamed the construction of the waste dam as the root cause of the failure, but also noted reckless behaviour by the mining company, even as multiple problems with the dam were becoming obvious. More expert reports are still being prepared, and there is much talk in the press about how things “have to change” in the mining industry, but what caught my eye were the figures being bandied about. For example, Vaughn Palmer, a columnist for the Vancouver Sun wrote on January 31, “the report says: “Cost estimates for conventional tailings dams do not include the risk costs, either direct or indirect, with failure potential.” Point taken, given that the tab for the Mount Polley cleanup has been estimated at $200 million.” Imperial Metals, the company responsible for the mine, will be expected to pay for the cleanup, and may further face fines in the amount of millions of dollars.
Today, south of Canada in the US state of Nevada, lawyers for the Province of Marinduque squared off against lawyers for Barrick Gold. Marinduque is holding Barrick Gold responsible for providing remedy for multiple disastrous mine waste failures in Marinduque that have caused serious damage to major river and sea ecosystems and have harmed many Marinduquenos. Last year, Barrick tried to make the law suit go away by offering Marinduque $20 million (of which the province would only get about $12 million after legal and administrative fees). The Province of Marinduque rightly turned down this grossly inadequate offer with its many onerous conditions. And so, the Province is back in court continuing the battle against Barrick for a fair settlement that will allow the Province to clean up the mess that mining has left behind.
It is heartwarming to know that Marinduquenos are not alone in their struggle. Outside the courtroom in Nevada, a demonstration sprang up of citizens of Nevada; Americans who are also fed up with Barrick’s destructive mining practices in their state, and who expressed their support for Marinduque’s struggle.
Companies like Barrick Gold must step up and pay the full cost for the cleanup of the mess mining leaves behind, no matter where it occurs, in the US, Canada, or the Philippines.
READ MORE ON THE MARINDUQUE DISASTER