ST. JOHNS, Nfld. (CP) -- The federal government should change regulations that allow mining companies to use bodies of freshwater as disposal sites for tailings from mining operations, the leader of Newfoundland's New Democrats says.
Lorraine Michael said the regulations will allow mining giant Vale Inco to dispose of tailings from its Long Harbour nickel-processing plant in nearby Sandy Pond in eastern Newfoundland.
She said Conservative Premier Danny Williams and his cabinet should speak out about the issue.
"The minister of environment and conservation should be very concerned that mining companies are trying to get away with destroying our freshwater lakes," Michael told a news conference Tuesday.
Under the federal Metal Mining Effluent Regulations, mining companies can apply for exemptions that will allow them to dispose of mine tailings in bodies of freshwater.
Michael was accompanied by federal NDP Fisheries critic Peter Stoffer, who said the regulations are the equivalent of a subsidy to pollute the environment.
He said federal Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn, a Newfoundlander, should change the regulations.
"The minister responsible for Newfoundland and Labrador around the cabinet table is also the minister responsible for fish and fish habitat," he said. "It is shocking that minister Hearn is allowing this action to happen in his own backyard."
Vale Inco's environmental impact statement calls for the water basin to serve as a receptacle for more than 400,000 tonnes of effluent annually, including nickel, copper and cobalt.
The federal and provincial cabinets are expected to announce their decisions on the environmental impact statement this summer.
The plan has divided the residents of Long Harbour.
The town of 211 -- down from 522 in 1991 -- is still reeling from the closure of a phosphorus plant and the commercial cod fishery nearly 20 years ago.
In 2002, changes were implemented to the federal Fisheries Act that allowed Ottawa to classify natural water bodies as tailing impoundment areas. The amended law requires mining companies that propose to dump waste into fish-bearing lakes and rivers to devise a plan to compensate for habitat loss.
In 2006, after the federal government allowed Aur Resources Inc. to dump tailings into two ponds in central Newfoundland for a copper-zinc operation, environmentalists warned water bodies across Canada would become junkyards for mining companies.
Since then, 15 mining projects have proposed to use water bodies as tailings ponds, according to Environment Canada.
As part of its plan to compensate for the loss of fish habitat, subject to approval by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Vale Inco would transfer fish out of Sandy Pond into two smaller nearby ponds. Those ponds would be flooded to create one larger lake to hold the extra fish.
(c) The Canadian Press 2008