The following is the introduction to the summary and conclusions section of a major paper we have been collaborating on with another and far more distinguished co-author who speaks mining truths always and only with humility and quietness. So chances are if we proceed to publish our work jointly this would never pass muster. But its the language that poured out of my heart and my intellect this morning as the only moral and political compass on what the Mt. Polley TSF failure tells us about the current global management of TSF’s and the as yet unmanifested unfunded public and environmental loss exposures of current industry wide business practices. We estimate that at $2.8 billion that will be passed off to tax payers globally from the presently standing inventory of TSF’s by 2020.
The mining industry is already beginning to throw up a dust cloud of talk about dry stack as “THE SOLUTION” and resurrecting the myth of “safe” deep water disposal..that is ocean dumping and dumping in deep pristine lakes a practice that even has blessing and sanction in GARD Guide and MEND despite solid and irrefutable scientific evidence of irreversible harm( Vogt(2013 http://www.craigvogt.com/links/Mine_Tailings_Marine_and_Riverine_Disposal.pdf ) and warnings by distinguished scientists in 2009 ( Moran et. al. 2009 https://drive.google.com/file/d/0Bw0jCpuVRzgERXRfVlZiUElEUl9nX09mOEFnSjlRbDFsU2lJ/view?usp=sharing ).
The industry will agree to other fixes on which there is widespread consensus including transparency ( public access to all raw data with a bearing on public and environmental liabilities) but they will continue to call for and rely on self regulation and will continue to divert attention away from the enormous unfunded public and environmental liabilities in the world’s standing and operating TSF’s.
After two months of careful and open inquiry into the “present state” on the magnitude of public and environmental liabilities and the current available funding for that the phrase that summed it all up was from Dr. Chris Seeley via R. Buckminster Fuller.
“By “business as usual,” I mean the kind of business that is bewitched by what Dr Chris Seeley calls, in The Fool and the Great Turning, “the three impossible fantasies”: the fantasy of limitless growth; the fantasy that actions can be taken that don’t have consequences; and the fantasy that human beings are separate from, and above, the natural world”(R. Buckminster Fuller)”
In the preceding discussion we have shown that except for very large companies with big balance sheets, lots of liquidity and diversified earnings (like Grupo) few companies operating TSF’s today ( or proposing them) have the financial capacity to absorb the total public cost of environmental damage caused by “human error” and resulting in failure of a TSF. We have shown that insurance is and can be only a very tiny and insignificant part of the total cost of such a loss and that publicly ordered clean up ( eg via a compliance order, is non insurable). We have shown that no prefunding is provided via spill response programs in Canada or in most regulatory regimes and that pre funding at the level of any state or province is not actuarially possible for a TSF failure of $300 million.. In short we have shown that there presently is no funding possible for large losses despite the public expectation/demand that “polluter pays”.
All prudent and reasonable persons ( the non bewitched) would agree, we are sure. that the current situation is not acceptable and cannot continue as is.
Business as usual is not an option.
It is not in the public interest to allow the development and accrual of large unfunded public liabilities that result from human error ( ie that are as most authors have said straight forwardly, preventable). The public expectation/demand that “polluter pays“ is a fair and reasonable one, a foundational one in any democratic nation founded on common law principles. It is ordinary that individuals and corporations accept not only legal but financial responsibility for the consequences of their actions. There is nothing out of order or unreasonable in the public/expectation demand that the “polluter pays”.
The present structure in B.C. and in most political jurisdictions is that the legal structure not only tolerates but facilitates shielding of the mine operator from financial liability for the consequences of preventable losses. Otherwise, bankruptcy would be inevitable. To reduce that to its plainest truth, the present structure of mining law and regulation places a higher social value on preventing bankruptcy of mining companies than it does on environmental protection and socially and economically productive uses of tax payer dollars. The present structure of B.C. law and law in most places is that there is a de facto public subsidy for the public consequences of mining failures. The public either accepts the loss or pays for the clean up that is essential to satisfy the electorate. The present structure is not “in the public interest”.
Businsess as usual is not an option.