Government response to Mt. Polley report confirms failure of industry self-regulation

January 30, 2015

The expert panel report on Mt. Polley, and the B.C. government’s response to the report, serve as an indictment of the province’s self-regulation scheme, the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union said today.

The government’s response to the report includes three measures – two intended to address serious deficiencies in the government’s ‘professional reliance’ self-regulation model, and one that continues to embrace the failed scheme.

“In issuing an order for all tailings pond operators to confirm the status of their foundation soils, the government is admitting they have no effective regulations in place to ensure the safety of these operations,” says BCGEU president Stephanie Smith. “If mandatory testing and documentation were part of the design approval process, they wouldn’t need to issue this order now.

“The failure of the Mt. Polley tailings dam design calls into question the government’s industrial design review process. How is it that companies can build massive storage facilities without knowing what they’re built on?”

The expert panel’s recommendation to incorporate the Canadian Dam Association’s (CDA) guidelines into provincial regulations shows the need for prescriptive measures to ensure the safety of these industrial projects, says Smith.

“The CDA voluntary guidelines currently say that a geotechnical investigation ‘should be carried out’ on proposed tailings pond foundation soils,” says Smith. “The BC Building Code says that houses must be built on a strong foundation. So why would mining operations be any different?”

The establishment of Independent Tailings Dam Review Boards appears to be a positive step, except that the government seems to be giving mine operators the authority to set up their own boards.

“After the Mt. Polley disaster last summer, the government changed their policy so that mine operators could no longer simply sign off on their own dam safety inspection reports,” says Smith. “But they have apparently learned little from that, and seem to be setting up a process that could allow mine operators to appoint their own reviewers.

“Self regulation of industry by industry is part of the reason why the Mt. Polley disaster happened. It’s time government realized that a strong public regulatory regime is the only real way to ensure the security and safety of British Columbians.”