It's a little startling to see the B.C. government say no to a mine, given all the enthusiasm they display for that industry.
But that's just what they did this week, turning thumbs-down on an open-pit project northwest of Smithers that would have moved 30,000 tonnes of ore a day in the hunt for copper, gold and molybdenum.
It represented 21 years of potential employment in northern B.C. for a few hundred people - something the Liberals are keen to advance. But two cabinet ministers rejected it, only the second time in recent history a mine proposal has been rejected.
That's quite a departure from the last big political call on mining. That was Taseko's Prosperity Mine, southwest of Williams Lake. It got provincial environmental approval, despite the fact it involved destroying a lake. But that mine proposal was later rejected by federal environment officials - because it involved destroying a lake.
Premier Christy Clark took office soon after that absurd situation developed and sided fully with the mine proponents. She lobbied Prime Minister Stephen Harper over the federal rejection, but then the situation changed when the company submitted a new plan that preserves the lake.
(Prosperity - now called New Prosperity - was re-submitted just last month to the Environmental Assessment Office.)
It may win provincial approval again eventually. If B.C. liked it with the lake gone, they'll like it with the lake left as is. But the ministerial decision on the Morrison mine makes you wonder if the political mood has changed a bit.
Environment Minister Terry Lake and Energy, Mines and Natural Gas Minister Rich Coleman got a negative recommendation from the EAO on the Morrison mine. After two years of study on the company's second attempt to win approval, the office recommended against approval. The ministers concurred in short order.
Lake and Coleman said the potential long-term risks of the project outweighed the potential benefits to B.C. The site is near Morrison Lake, at the headwaters of the Skeena River.
The ministers cited advice from the EAO that there was potential to affect a genetically unique sockeye run.
"The potential for long-term liability for the province and risk to the environment were not acceptable in this case," they announced.
The decision also referred to insufficient data about the behaviour of the lake and the potential diminished long-term water quality.
In a letter to the proponent, Lake refined the objections. He noted that the worry about sockeye impact was only if the mitigation measures proved to be unsuccessful.
And he specifically cited First Nations' objections to the mine, also noting the Lake Babine Nation's "moderate to strong" case for aboriginal title over the property.
Lake recognized the company's efforts to win approval.
Pacific Booker Minerals improved the proposed tailings pond, added a water treatment plant and made various changes to mitigate the impacts on water. It also signed a memorandum of agreement with the Lake Babine Nation - after a legal fight.
"We also recognize your proposed project would have provided economic benefits, including the creation of jobs and tax revenue," Lake told the company. "Despite these positive aspects ... we remain of the view that an environmental assessment certificate should not be issued."
He invited the company to redesign and re-apply. In the meantime, under the ludicrous process that federal and provincial governments have come up with, a virtually identical federal review of the project continues.
The two governments "harmonize" the work, meaning the studies are shared, but considered separately. (A single joint review like the one for the Northern Gateway pipeline has to be negotiated separately.)
The company apparently has its hopes set on that outcome. It could wind up as a mirror image of the Prosperity farce - B.C. saying no, Ottawa saying yes. It would still need B.C.'s approval, regardless.
Clark's government set a goal of eight new mines and nine expansions in the next few years.
But with an election coming up, and a confusing impasse developing over where it stands on the Northern Gateway pipeline, it looks as if the Liberals are treading lightly on environmental decisions these days.
© Copyright 2013