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‘Polluter pays’ the goal of B.C.’s industrial performance bond

Ministers seeking ways to enforce up-front fund for risks
Port Alice pulp mill site on northern Vancouver Island, shut down since 2015, is being cleaned up under a court-ordered receivership after it changed hands and was abandoned in 2019. (North Island Gazette photo)

The B.C. government has found itself on the hook for cleanup costs of an abandoned gold mine on the Taku River, dormant oil and gas wells in the Peace region and other industrial failures, and is working on a way to make sure polluters pay instead.

The environment and energy ministries released a discussion paper with options Wednesday, looking for expert input on a performance bond system that has been demanded by communities to protect them from mills and mines that are abandoned, leaving contaminated sites. Protecting taxpayers from costs is a direction of Premier John Horgan in mandate letters for both ministers, but there is no indication yet when new protection will be in place.

Port Alice Mayor Kevin Cameron has been calling for better protection for communities like his for several years, as the tiny community recovers from the effects of a pulp mill site that was abandoned in 2019. That site is under a court-ordered receiver and cleanup is underway.

“Our village knows first-hand the negative impacts an abandoned industrial site has on the surrounding community and ecosystems,” Cameron said in a ministry statement April 13. “We are excited to see our local mill site cleaned up and look forward to companies being held responsible going forward.”

The discussion paper suggests that industries may use a pooled fund for performance bonds, similar to one administered by the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission to cover “orphan” wells left by drilling companies that go out of business. The federal government stepped up with public money to accelerate the work in northeastern B.C. to provide work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The discussion paper is available here, and written public submissions are open until May 28.

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