VANCOUVER/OTTAWA – The Federal Court dismissed a Taseko Mines Ltd. lawsuit in a ruling earlier this week, closing the door on the company’s most recent bid to build a copper-gold mine in Tŝilhqot’in territory in central British Columbia.
The Court turned down the company’s challenge to the federal environmental review panel report – which found that the “New Prosperity” project would have several significant effects on the environment and on the Tŝilhqot’in Nation – and the federal decision-making that accepted that conclusion and rejected the project. Taseko has until early January of 2018 to appeal the Court’s decision.
MiningWatch Canada, represented by Ecojustice lawyer Sean Nixon, intervened in the court case in order to reinforce the integrity of several key aspects of the environmental assessment process, which echoed earlier findings that the project in its original form posed an unacceptable risk to the environment and specifically to Teztan Biny (“Fish Lake”), a site of great importance to the Tŝilhqot’in Nation.
The Tŝilhqot’in National Government – supported by many individuals and groups, including MiningWatch and Ecojustice – has been fighting to stop this mine project for many years, through its various incarnations as “Prosperity” and then “New Prosperity.”
“We are very relieved that the latest chapter of this long, sordid story might finally be over,” said MiningWatch Canada spokesperson Jamie Kneen. “But we’re especially pleased that the Court endorsed our arguments about the need for precautionary decision-making in the environmental assessment process, and the importance of proponents providing adequate information about how they propose to address a project’s environmental effects.”
The precautionary principle is key to ensuring that projects can only proceed if the risks to the environment are clearly understood and the proponent has shown how it will address them. In this case, Ecojustice and MiningWatch argued that Taseko undermined the meaningful assessment of these risks by claiming it would address them after the assessment was completed and that it didn’t need to provide a more detailed analysis.
“Taseko took a backwards approach when it claimed it would find a way to manage these risks at some later time,” Nixon said. “No project should get a green light in an assessment unless the proponent can show that all serious risks can be safely managed. The safety of communities and the environment depend on it.”
The Court was critical of Taseko’s failure to give details about mitigation measures, and found that it was reasonable for the review panel to reject Taseko’s vague promises that “adaptive management” could address serious environmental problems that might arise later on.
Kneen commented, “Adaptive management is a valuable approach to modifying mitigation measures in response to environmental change, new technology, or improved standards.” He added, “It’s not a substitute for actually doing a thorough and robust analysis of different mitigation options and contingencies.”
MiningWatch is hopeful that this ruling will also put an end to Taseko’s continuing efforts to develop this ill-conceived project. The Tŝilhqot’in National Government and the federal government had to go to court this summer to stop the company from trying to do additional drilling and exploration work in the area.