For Immediate Release: November 13, 2017
Statement by Environmental Defence’s Dale Marshall on Friday’s response from the Canadian government on the leaking tailings ponds case
Ottawa, Ont. – The Canadian government’s response to Environmental Defence’s case on tar sands tailings ponds leaking into the Athabasca River and other rivers and aquifers is gravely disappointing. The government’s response lets polluting companies off the hook and turns a blind eye to increased cancer rates in Indigenous communities who live adjacent to contaminated rivers and depend on them for water and food.
Tar sands companies admit that their tailings ponds leak, and research by federal scientists shows that the toxic chemicals found in the Athabasca River bear the “fingerprint” of tailings ponds. So why does Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) claim it cannot determine if the contamination found in rivers and groundwater near tailings is natural or because of leaking tailings ponds? This also shows blatant disregard for the precautionary principle adopted by ECCC, which states that uncertainty will not be used as a reason to postpone acting to protect the environment.
The federal government must immediately work with the Alberta government to find a solution to this toxic legacy. The tar sands industry started creating tailing ponds fifty years ago, which should have been enough time for the industry to have developed a credible plan for managing tailings safely. In the absence of cooperation from Alberta, the federal government should enforce Canada’s environmental laws in order to protect freshwater, ecosystems, and the citizens of Alberta.
- Environmental Defence, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and Daniel T’seleie of the K’ahsho Got’ine Dene First Nation submitted a case to the CEC in June 2017, arguing that the federal government was failing to enforce the Fisheries Act with respect to tailings ponds that are leaking toxic chemicals into nearby rivers. See http://www.cec.org/sem-submissions/alberta-tailings-ponds-ii
- The CEC is an environmental body created through the North American Free Trade Agreement, with the three NAFTA countries as members. Its mandate is to investigate citizen’s submissions, assess whether environmental laws are not being upheld, and do deep investigations into the problems and solutions.
- The CEC now has 120 working days to determine if the government response in this case is adequate or whether the three NAFTA countries vote on the case proceeding further.
- Though the Alberta government has jurisdiction to manage resource development, the federal government has the authority to enforce laws related to toxic pollution and impacts on fish-bearing rivers and streams.
- Alberta tailings ponds are now over 1.3 trillion litres and growing.
- Alberta tar sands companies are submitting tailings plans that rely on water capping, an unproven and risky approach involving putting tailings in mined out pits and covering them with water. Proposed timelines sometimes extend to the end of this century. Last month the Alberta Energy Regulator approved just such a plan put forward by Suncor.
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