On Pender Island, recent staking of more than a score of mining claims has residents aflutter.
They, like many before them, are finding out the hard way about B.C.’s century-old free-entry mining system, which, in most of the province, allows mineral exploration on private property without the owner’s consent. Landowners get compensated if mining actually occurs, but are powerless to prevent it from happening.
That’s just the way it is, they’re told. That’s the way mineral tenure laws work.
Except when the same thing happened in Ontario’s well-heeled cottage country, that province moved to tweak the rules. Laws are written in ink, not stone.
Emma Hume points to the Ontario example in arguing that B.C. needs to update its mining laws, too. Hume, who is articling at a law firm, proposes a six-point recipe for change.
You can read all about it in chapter four of Maintaining SuperNatural B.C. for Our Children: Selected Law Reform Proposals, a new book published — just in time for the provincial election — by the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Centre in collaboration with Ecojustice, West Coast Environmental Law and others from the leafy left.
The book proposes specific changes to what its authors call archaic rules that fail to adequately protect B.C.’s environment. Lawyers and legal scholars weigh in on everything from forestry to fracking.
Some of it is big-issue stuff — MP Murray Rankin proposes a provincial environment commissioner in one chapter, and law prof Deborah Curran writes about regional sustainability in another — while other bits deal with nuts-and-bolts problems like rusting home heating oil tanks, the kind that left a homeowner looking at a $60,000 cleanup bill after 1,000 litres of fuel leaked into Saanich’s Colquitz Creek last year.
In one intriguing piece, law centre legal director Calvin Sandborn, the editor of the book, looks at ways to protect natural areas within communities. B.C. could copy California, which raises $40 million annually by selling environmental licence plates, he says. Or the province could emulate those U.S. states that buy green space “by reclaiming abandoned pop bottle deposits from the bottling industry — reclaiming the nickels and dimes that customers paid but never redeemed. Instead of the unclaimed deposit going as a windfall to industry, the government recaptures part of the windfall.”
Maintaining SuperNatural B.C. is not likely to knock 50 Shades of Grey into the remainders pile at Munro’s or Bolen Books.
It does, however, offer a handy tool for measuring the greenness of provincial election candidates. All politicians profess to love the environment, but some get antsy when asked to buy it a wedding ring.
The timing of publication is not accidental; this is a chance to nail candidates on the specifics. The book can be read online at elc.uvic.ca.
It’s the sort of thing we have come to expect from the non-profit law centre — a marriage of environmentalists and lawyers — and the associated UVic Environmental Law Clinic, where the people are mostly young, smart and idealistic. The clinic feels like one of those Pelican Brief-type movies that ends with the plucky, penniless fledgling lawyers preventing some corporate suit with a Nixonian five o’clock shadow from burying nuclear waste in the Garden of Eden. Somewhere, God smiles.
Not everyone sees ecolawyers that way. The federal Conservatives, in particular, treat the environmental movement in general as a woollyheaded impediment to economic development.
That’s overly simplistic. Some current laws serve no one well. Industry and communities alike would be better off if mineral-tenure laws were updated, making it clear where mining is a non-starter — such as in the Gulf Islands, where staking undermines (no pun intended) the intent of strict land-use rules that have kept the bulldozers at bay for 40 years.
As it is, mining interests get priority over land-use plans (including those favouring other industries), environmental protection and the needs of the broader community until well into the approval process, Hume argues. It’s only then that the big questions get asked. That means mining companies can be left dangling for years, only to get shot down. Taxpayers face having to pay a fortune to compensate mining companies whose mineral leases get expropriated.
It’s just one of the specific questions your provincial election candidates will be happy to answer.
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