Taseko Mines Ltd. has filed legal challenges to a federal government decision not to approve the company’s proposed New Prosperity Gold-Copper Mine Project and the federal environmental review panel findings that informed that decision.

Ecojustice lawyers represented MiningWatch Canada in the environmental review of the project and are now representing MiningWatch as an intervener in one of Taseko’s cases challenging the panel review.  The intervention will support the panel’s environmental assessment and their conclusions that the project would likely have serious ecological and cultural impacts.

Taseko had initially proposed to partially drain Fish Lake, near William’s Lake, B.C., in order to use it and the surrounding watershed to create ponds to hold “tailings”, a slurry of toxic chemicals, rocks and waste water, created by the mine. Fish Lake drains into Fish Creek, the Taseko River, Chilko River, the Chilcotin River and finally into the Fraser River.

Canadian mining companies used to have to build their own tailings ponds but an amendment to Canada’s Fisheries Act in 2002 allowed natural lakes and creeks to be reclassified as “tailings impoundment areas.” Since then, the federal government has reclassified up to twenty lakes as dumps for mine waste. The company asked for the same reclassification for the Prosperity Mine at Fish Lake.

In January 2010, The B.C. government approved the proposed Prosperity Mine even though the Tsilhqot’in Nation, whose members have proven and asserted Aboriginal rights in the proposed mine area, was against the project. Then in November 2010, Canada’s Environment Minister refused to approve Taseko’s proposal because it would have several significant and long-term effects on the environment and on the Tsilhqot’in people and their lands and waters.

Soon after that, Taseko asked the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency to review a new mining proposal on the same site called the “New Prosperity Mine”. The second review took place, and the review panel and federal Environment Minister again rejected the proposal.  The mining company is now bringing legal challenges to the second review panel’s report and the Minister’s decision.

Why is Ecojustice involved?

In our view, MiningWatch’s participation in this case may help set an important environmental law precedent by supporting the panel’s precautionary approach to uncertainty in environmental assessments – a principle we believe should inform all environmental decision-making in Canada. Further, the intervention would support the panel’s broad approach (under the then-new Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012) to allowing public participation in environmental assessment hearing processes.

What would win mean?

Along with protecting the Fish Lake watershed and the river system, and once again affirming the Tsilhqot’in peoples’ rights over their traditional lands, we believe that a decision that supports the Panel’s careful approach to allowing public participation and dealing with uncertainty about potential environmental impacts would improve the quality of future environmental assessments in Canada.