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Voisey's Bay Mine and Mill Environmental Assessment Panel Report

17 Environmental Management

Environmental management, as addressed in this report, encompasses both VBNC's own policies, procedures and actions, and the wider context, including the regulatory regime and the involvement of other stakeholders. Key themes at the public hearings included the following:

  • the relationship of environmental management to differing levels of certainty about predicted project effects;
  • the distinction between matters needing to be resolved at the environmental assessment stage, and those that can and should be dealt with at the later permit stages;
  • the relationship of environmental management to possible future changes in the Project;
  • the implications of the current land claims situation for environmental management;
  • the need for effective Aboriginal participation in both monitoring activities and ongoing regulatory processes, and different organizational structures and agreements through which this might be accomplished;
  • the approach to monitoring, components of follow-up programs and the adequacy of existing baseline studies to support these programs; and
  • reclamation issues, including the provision of financial assurance to cover liabilities.

VBNC presented information on its proposed Environmental Health and Safety Management System (EMS), which it described as a framework for organizing its environmental protection efforts, preventing pollution and continuously improving its environmental performance. It also described the company's proposed monitoring approach.

The EMS would have four tiers of documentation: an overall EMS manual, 11 environmental protection plans to be updated as required over the life of the Project, detailed procedures for various activities, and the forms and records used to support the system. VBNC is a wholly owned subsidiary of Inco Limited, and its EMS adheres to Inco's procedures and policies, including Inco's corporate environmental health and safety guidelines. Inco also carries out environmental health and safety audits of all its divisions, including subsidiaries, and audit results are presented to Inco's Board of Directors.

VBNC's proposed monitoring program would have two main components. Compliance monitoring would be done to ensure that the Project met both specific regulatory requirements, and internally established standards and targets. Environmental effects monitoring, also referred to as the follow-up program, would test and validate the predictions of the environmental assessment, verify the accuracy of various models used during the process, and determine whether mitigative measures were effective and the environment was being protected.

VBNC proposes to develop the effects monitoring program in collaboration with the Labrador Inuit Association (LIA) and the Innu Nation through formal bilateral arrangements that it calls monitoring partnerships. Therefore, VBNC did not present details of proposed effects monitoring studies in the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), but it did outline the criteria it would use to select which interactions between the Project and the valued ecosystem components (VECs) would be monitored.

VBNC stressed the importance of basing monitoring studies on clear and achievable objectives, testable hypotheses, practical methods, key indicators that can provide early warning of environmental change, parameters that can be measured accurately and precisely, and pathways that link contaminant sources and receptors. Otherwise, there is a risk of carrying out studies that are, in VBNC's words, "data rich and information poor."

The monitoring partnerships, as conceived by VBNC and endorsed by LIA and the Innu Nation at the hearings, would be "business relationships," designed to achieve Aboriginal participation in all phases of the monitoring program, to integrate Aboriginal knowledge, and to provide timely and effective reporting to local communities.

VBNC proposes to fund monitoring activities required for regulatory compliance, which would include any follow-up required under section 38 of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (the CEA Act). But the company also indicated its willingness to participate as a funding partner in other programs addressing broader regional objectives, where mutual benefit could be established.

17.1 Regulatory Context

The regulatory context for environmental management of the Voisey's Bay Project has three fundamental aspects. The first is the various pieces of applicable legislation, their associated approvals and permits (the EIS identified 50 of these), and the procedures for issuing these approvals, which may or may not include formal or informal opportunities for further public review and input.

The second aspect, emphasized particularly by Environment Canada, includes the various agreements, strategies and guidelines produced by government, usually in collaboration with other stakeholders, that are intended to promote sustainable development through responsible environmental stewardship. While not legally binding, these should play a central role in helping VBNC avoid impacts and prevent pollution.

The third aspect is the power of the Responsible Authority, under section 38 of the CEA Act, to require that a proponent implement a formal follow-up program to verify the accuracy of environmental assessment predictions and to determine the efficacy of mitigative measures. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) has already indicated that it would require such a program and VBNC has outlined, in general terms, what it thinks the program should include.

The Panel notes that when land claims agreements have been reached, the regulatory context will change to a certain degree, as discussed in Chapter 4. While the federal and provincial governments would retain their regulatory authority, they would be required to obtain and consider the recommendations of the Aboriginal parties. The rest of this chapter, therefore, relates to the existing situation, in the absence of land claims agreements.

Participants expressed a number of concerns about the regulation of the Project, including the following.

  • How are the various approvals granted and in what order? Could any part or parts of the Project proceed in a piecemeal fashion before certain key agreements had been reached?
  • The regulatory framework contains some gaps, which will need to be filled through the environmental assessment process by way of conditions.
  • The approvals and permit processes do not necessarily allow for public or stakeholder review and consultation. Important decisions about the Project could be made without input from Inuit and Innu.
  • Informal arrangements to seek comments from LIA and the Innu Nation during past permit processes relating to exploration activities, although a move in the right direction, have not always been satisfactory. The Aboriginal organizations have had limited time and insufficient resources to review applications, and have often received no feedback on their input.
  • Due to piecemeal permitting by a number of different agencies, no one might take the combined effects of all the permitted activities into account.
  • Although a number of departments are willing to consult with Aboriginal stakeholders regarding different permits and approvals, this could place a considerable burden on LIA and the Innu Nation.
  • Government agencies may have good intentions but limited resources to do the type of on-the-ground inspections in northern Labrador that would be needed to ensure compliance.

Both LIA and the Innu Nation have recommended that some of these concerns be addressed through the negotiation of an environmental agreement, which would cover issues such as Aboriginal participation in regulatory processes, and terms and conditions that are not included in regulations.

Although many federal and provincial departments would play a role in the ongoing regulation of the Project, DFO, as the Responsible Authority, would have continuing responsibilities under the CEA Act after the environmental assessment phase is over. These responsibilities would be over and above DFO's duties with respect to fish, fish habitat, and marine navigation and safety. They would include supervising the follow-up program and coordinating the federal government's response to the Panel report.

From the Province's perspective, the Department of Environment and Labour and the Department of Mines and Energy would play key roles, although the Province has not formally indicated whether or how coordination would be carried out. The Department of Mines and Energy would administer the mining lease under the Minerals Act. While the lease does not require constant monitoring or frequent reporting, it is likely to be a key document with respect to ensuring accountability for environmental liabilities.

17.2 Environmental Management and Uncertainty

Both LIA and the Innu Nation expressed strong concerns about relying on the environmental management regime to deal with what they saw as fundamental uncertainties about the Project. LIA emphasized that VBNC should not think that release from the environmental assessment process gives the company a "blank cheque" to proceed with a project that includes ill-defined elements. LIA was particularly concerned that aspects of the Project relating to the pace and scale of the operation, shipping plans and the underground mine could "escape environmental assessment," and it was not confident that the current regulatory and permit system could plug that gap.

For the Innu Nation, uncertainties related to what it saw as inadequate impact identification; a failure to fully assess alternative methods of carrying out key components of the Project; and several "unresolved issues" - for example, the reclamation plan, the monitoring program and the decision about backfilling the open pit. The Innu Nation argued that monitoring should not be considered a cure for "serious uncertainties about environmental impacts of the Undertaking, and inadequate assessment of reasonable alternative means of carrying out the Undertaking."

Both LIA and the Innu Nation suggested that the Panel stop the environmental assessment process until VBNC had resolved these uncertainties by providing more information. However, they both provided alternative recommendations, should the Project proceed.

From VBNC's perspective, environmental assessment is best carried out early in the planning process, when it can best influence design decisions. The Project is bound to evolve to a certain extent, and therefore expecting a complete Project description at the assessment stage is unrealistic.

The Panel agrees with LIA and the Innu Nation that a number of uncertainties remain about the Project. The Panel believes, however, that in most cases these uncertainties are not unreasonable at this stage of project planning and design, especially as some of them relate to future information that could only be obtained if VBNC were able to proceed with advanced underground exploration.

Uncertainty relating to production rate and mine life is addressed in Chapter 3, Project Need and Resource Stewardship, and specifically in Recommendation 2. Issues relating to the assessment of alternative means of carrying out the Project are dealt with in the appropriate sections of this report. Other issues identified during this environmental assessment that will require review later in the life of the Project include

  • tailings management during the underground phase (whether this involves developing the North Tailings Basin or replacing or delaying it through some alternative means, such as backfilling the open pit);
  • reassessment of the decision to construct a second diffuser in Kangeklualuk Bay;
  • any new surface facilities associated with the underground phase, particularly west of Reid Brook;
  • any modifications to Headwater Pond or the North Tailings Basin, such as dam height changes to increase volume;
  • the development of a separate sludge disposal facility, if it should be required;
  • the decision as to whether Headwater Pond outflow could be returned to the Reid Brook system in the post-decommissioning phase;
  • any major modifications to the shipping regime; and
  • the review and approval of the monitoring program and the reclamation plan.

The Panel agrees with LIA and the Innu Nation that a means must be developed to ensure that ongoing regulatory decision making and effects monitoring include Aboriginal participation and full consideration of environmental implications.

17.3 Environmental Co-Management Measures

Both LIA and the Innu Nation have stipulated that the Project should not be allowed to proceed until land claims agreements have been reached, for a number of reasons. With respect to environmental management, both parties are negotiating environmental and resources co-management components that could be applied to the Voisey's Bay Project and to other potential industrial developments. Both parties also indicated that a co-management regime based on land claims would be a better way to proceed than ad hoc, project-by-project structures, because it would allow them to deal more comprehensively with cumulative effects of different projects and would be a more efficient use of their time and resources. However, both LIA and the Innu Nation provided detailed recommendations for environmental structures, presumably to be considered as interim arrangements if the Project proceeded in advance of land claims agreements.

The Panel's conclusions and recommendations in this chapter should be read in conjunction with Chapter 4, Land Claims and Impact Benefit Agreements, and particularly Recommendation 3. While the Panel considers that it would be preferable for governments to ratify an agreement in principle with LIA and the Innu Nation before the Project proceeds, the Panel recognizes that equivalent alternative measures could also allow Canada and the Province to meet their fiduciary responsibilities. This chapter addresses those alternative measures.

Both LIA and the Innu Nation proposed that the parties to the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and VBNC develop and sign a multi-party environmental agreement. The agreement would be legally binding and would provide a framework for environmental monitoring. From LIA's perspective, it would formalize corporate commitments, provide a mechanism for incorporating Aboriginal knowledge and address issues not fully dealt with during environmental assessment. The Innu Nation has also recommended that the agreement cover reclamation, financial security, reporting requirements and the approval of the various EMS plans to be prepared by VBNC.

The proposed environmental agreement was presumably based on a similar agreement signed after the NWT BHP Diamonds Project environmental assessment was completed. Although Aboriginal parties were involved in developing and implementing that agreement, they were not actual signatories. The stated purpose of the NWT agreement was to provide for "Project-related environmental matters additional to such matters governed by legislation, regulations and Regulatory Instruments" and it covered many of the same topics proposed by LIA and the Innu Nation.

LIA and the Innu Nation's proposals diverged on the issue of implementing the environmental agreement. LIA recommended establishing an independent environmental agreement agency with representatives from the five parties. The Innu Nation, however, envisaged a trilateral environmental monitoring body with representatives from the two Aboriginal organizations and VBNC. It indicated that this body could be the same as the monitoring partnership previously described.

LIA also proposed two additional bilateral agreements: a shipping agreement to be signed by VBNC and LIA that would describe how the shipping component, and particularly winter shipping, would be carried out; and an integrated marine management plan that DFO and LIA would develop under the terms of the Oceans Act. VBNC has agreed to negotiate the shipping agreement. DFO, however, has indicated that considerable consultation has to be carried out around the new Oceans Act before beginning any integrated marine management planning process, which could not be a bilateral process anyway. DFO suggested other avenues might be found but did not specify any possibilities at the hearings.

VBNC criticized the proposed environmental agreement and the independent agency as unnecessary. It also said these proposals blurred the lines of accountability, which VBNC believes would be much more clearly drawn in the bilateral monitoring partnerships to be established through impact and benefit agreements (IBAs). VBNC also emphasized that it should retain ultimate responsibility for compliance monitoring and for Project management decisions about mitigation.

Both the federal and provincial governments indicated that they believed their regulatory roles and processes were clearly established and adequate for the job at hand, and that additional terms and conditions could be attached to the various Project approvals and therefore made legally binding. While open to discussing ways to improve Aboriginal participation in regulatory processes, they were non-committal about the need for either an agreement or a separate monitoring review body.

17.3.1 Environmental Management: Functions and Relationships

The Panel believes it is important to clarify the various functions expected of any new environmental management structure. Based on information presented during the review, the Panel believes these functions should include the following.

  • Until land claim agreements are finalized, the environmental management structure must ensure that governments fully consult and involve Aboriginal parties in substantive decisions regarding traditional lands.
  • It should promote coordination among various government agencies and between the federal and provincial governments to ensure that regulatory processes do not become so compartmentalized that the significance of the broader picture is lost.
  • It should ensure that both Aboriginal knowledge and local concerns and priorities are incorporated into VBNC's EMS and into the design and implementation of the monitoring program.
  • It must provide a satisfactory way to address future Project changes and developments.
  • It should provide an effective and credible way to oversee the follow-up program, as required by the CEA Act.
  • It should provide opportunities for Inuit and Innu to be directly involved in Project monitoring.
  • It should not burden VBNC with additional and unnecessary layers of bureaucracy.
  • It should reflect the fact that sound environmental management and steady progress towards sustainability are matters of broad public interest and responsibility.

The Panel recognizes that effective environmental management would involve three sets of relationships. The first is between VBNC and the regulatory agencies. The Panel believes that this relationship is well established, and that, in general terms, the mining industry is well regulated. This does not mean there is no room for improvement. However, the Panel was not presented with evidence of significant gaps in the regulatory system related to the Project, except with respect to the regulation of activities affecting sea ice south of 60° (and this is not mining legislation).

The second relationship is between VBNC and the Aboriginal parties. While clearly this is not altogether smooth, all three parties agreed that they wanted to negotiate monitoring partnerships. Through these partnerships, Inuit and Innu would have direct advisory input into the design and implementation of monitoring studies, including the definition of thresholds to trigger action; would participate in the actual monitoring; would receive regular reports on monitoring results; and would be provided with resources to support their participation. It is worth noting that there is no indication that these types of provisions were included in the IBAs signed in the Northwest Territories (although no one can be certain, since IBAs are confidential). Therefore, the environmental agreement in that case was designed to include at least some of these elements.

The Panel concludes that it is very much in the interests of sound environmental management that LIA and the Innu Nation work closely with VBNC through monitoring partnerships to maximize Aboriginal input into the design and implementation of the EMS plans, including the monitoring program. This function need not be duplicated through the advisory side of an independent monitoring agency. However, it does not replace the more formal and arms' length review and oversight role included in the follow-up program.

Recommendation 93

The Panel recommends that VBNC negotiate the proposed monitoring partnerships with both LIA and the Innu Nation through their respective Impact Benefit Agreements. The monitoring partnerships should ensure Inuit and Innu participation in the design, implementation and evaluation of the monitoring program. They should also provide opportunities for Inuit and Innu to obtain necessary training and to collect and analyze data, using both scientific methods and Aboriginal knowledge and observation.

The third relationship is between the Aboriginal parties and government. In the Panel's opinion, this relationship is the least well defined and established, although the MOU itself represents a positive step in this direction. LIA and the Innu Nation expressed considerable concern that they would be effectively shut out of subsequent regulatory processes. As an example, while DFO requires VBNC to consult with the public before bringing forward proposals to compensate residents for the loss of fish habitat, DFO itself has no formal process to continue this consultation while preparing the fish habitat compensation plan, a confidential contractual arrangement between DFO and VBNC. The Panel recognizes that this third relationship would be significantly altered and presumably improved through new self-government and co-management arrangements, once land claims agreements have been reached.

The environmental agreement proposed by LIA and the Innu Nation would ensure Aboriginal involvement in reviewing environmental monitoring and would consolidate a number of conditions that VBNC must meet. The Panel agrees that both of these functions are required but believes that the first is most properly done through a four-party agreement that would continue the relationship set up through the MOU.

In relation to the second function, the Panel is also concerned about the possibility of excessive reliance on contractual agreements to carry out environmental management functions that are usually governed by regulation. The Panel believes that the terms and conditions that emerge from this assessment, over and above existing regulatory requirements, could and should be attached to the various permits and approvals to give them proper legislated weight as well as transparency, which would provide for public accountability. Commitments made by VBNC regarding business and employment benefits most properly belong in IBAs, which would also be legally binding.

The environmental agreement could be project specific, and therefore apply only to the Voisey's Bay Project. However, the Panel believes that it would be more efficient and effective to expand the scope of the agreement to include other mineral resource activity in northern Labrador, including further exploration.

Recommendation 94

The Panel recommends that, before construction begins, Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador, LIA and the Innu Nation negotiate an environmental co-management agreement to address both biophysical and socio-economic aspects of mineral resources development in northern Labrador. The agreement should establish an appropriate mechanism for ongoing four-party involvement in associated regulatory processes, the review of future related Project developments and the administration of the follow-up program.

This agreement should also satisfy the requirements for consultation and participation laid out in the Delgamuukw decision to justify infringement of Aboriginal rights and title.

The Panel observes that the four parties to this agreement may wish to broaden the scope of the agreement to include issues relating to other aspects of resource development in northern Labrador.

17.3.2 Organizational Structures for Environmental Management

During the discussions about organizational structures for overseeing environmental monitoring, presenters described two independent monitoring bodies at other projects: the Institute for Environmental Monitoring and Research (IEMR), established following the assessment of the low level flying program in Labrador; and the Independent Environmental Monitoring Agency (IEMA) for the Ekati Diamond Mine in the Northwest Territories. The emphasis of IEMR appears to be mainly on promoting and funding research in support of effects monitoring. The Innu Nation expressed concern about the effectiveness of this body, opting in its environmental management recommendations to the Panel for a more direct relationship with VBNC through their monitoring partnership. The IEMA appears to be a closer match to the model proposed by LIA.

Both agencies appear to provide a means whereby independent scientific expertise can be brought to bear when reviewing monitoring programs. However, in the case of the Voisey's Bay Project, the Panel does not endorse this approach for the following reasons. The Panel is impressed by the calibre of the government scientists who participated in the review process, and by their local knowledge and experience, and believes that they should continue to contribute their expertise as part of the follow-up program. The Panel also believes that the Aboriginal organizations need access to scientific knowledge and advice, but that this access should be direct, rather than through a scientific review committee working for an independent agency. Direct access would ensure that the scientific advice responded directly to the needs of the Aboriginal organizations and could be integrated easily with Aboriginal knowledge and expertise, as required. The Aboriginal organization could then bring this scientific advice either directly to VBNC, through their monitoring partnership, or to the other signatories to the four-party agreement outlined in Recommendation 94.

As an example of effective integration of Aboriginal and scientific knowledge, the Panel also commends the contribution of LIA's panels of Inuit experts during the hearings. The Panel would see Aboriginal organizations' direct use of scientific advisors as an excellent opportunity to continue this type of integration.

The Panel recognizes the need for full Aboriginal participation in reviewing the implementation and results of the monitoring program. The Panel further believes that an independent monitoring agency would be an inappropriate mechanism because the proposed monitoring partnerships would ensure direct Aboriginal input into the design and implementation of the monitoring program. The Panel does not believe that VBNC should be required to fund both the monitoring partnerships and a separate agency.

In place of an independent agency, the Panel concludes that the federal and provincial governments, LIA and the Innu Nation should jointly form an Environmental Advisory Board specifically to evaluate VBNC's ongoing environmental performance and to address concerns and issues as they may arise. The role of the advisory board would include reviewing and making recommendations about

  • initial and subsequent permit applications;
  • VBNC's completed EMS framework and environmental protection plans;
  • compliance monitoring results;
  • activities undertaken as part of the follow-up program, including environmental effects monitoring; and
  • other issues relating to the Project that any of the four parties or VBNC wishes to bring to the advisory board.

The responsible federal or provincial department or agency would still make final decisions on regulatory issues, unless it had specifically delegated those decisions to the board. However, protocols would be established to give the board sufficient time to make its recommendations and to ensure that those recommendations were carefully considered and that the board received feedback. At the same time, the Panel believes that the board and the participating parties should make the review processes as efficient as possible, to avoid delaying or inconveniencing VBNC unnecessarily.

As with the mineral resources development agreement, this board could be specific to the Voisey's Bay Project, or could, more effectively, include in its mandate all issues relating to mineral resources exploration and development in northern Labrador.

Recommendation 95

The Panel recommends that, under the terms of the environmental co-management agreement, the four parties to the Memorandum of Understanding should establish an Environmental Advisory Board (EAB) for northern Labrador. Its mandate would be to review the results of compliance monitoring and of the follow-up program established under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act; to review permit applications and future Project development proposals; and to address ongoing environmental management issues and concerns. Canada and the Province should fund the Board's operations, which should include a secretariat to coordinate administrative and scientific functions. The EAB should publish an annual report.

To help the Environmental Advisory Board in its work, the Panel concludes that VBNC should consolidate all the various environmental and socio-economic requirements and commitments into one document to provide a benchmark against which the Project's performance can be evaluated.

Recommendation 96

The Panel recommends that, before construction starts, VBNC prepare an environmental performance document that clearly lays out all key terms and conditions under which the Project would operate and all commitments made by VBNC, including all performance standards, financial assurances, targets, quotas and reporting procedures. The document should indicate in each case the appropriate legal basis (for example, attached as a condition to a Navigable Waters Protection Act approval, included in an impact and benefit agreement or voluntary agreement). This document would be designed to help VBNC report its environmental performance and to help governments, Aboriginal organizations and the public evaluate it.

17.3.3 Shipping Agreement and Marine Management Plan

LIA and VBNC have already agreed to negotiate a bilateral shipping agreement intended to establish the terms by which shipping would occur, particularly through landfast ice in the Project area. These terms would include monitoring measures. Although winter shipping would not occur for a number of years, LIA wishes, before construction starts, to negotiate some provisions relating to shipping during the open water season. Issues could include speed, noise, effects on birds and the shipping schedule.

LIA also hopes to develop an integrated marine management plan under the auspices of the Oceans Act that could ultimately incorporate part or all of the provisions of the shipping agreement. During the hearings, DFO initially suggested to the Panel that this would be an entirely appropriate and feasible activity under the Oceans Act. However, DFO subsequently indicated that it is not yet able to enter into a planning process through this mechanism and did not indicate when it would be ready.

Evidence presented during the review has convinced the Panel that existing legislation and resource management systems do not adequately protect the interests of Labrador Inuit and any other sea ice users. DFO held out little hope that legislation could be changed quickly, and stated that, while the Oceans Act shows promise, it is not immediately usable. As indicated in Chapter 10, the Panel believes significant uncertainties still surround the effects of winter shipping, and that these must be satisfactorily resolved before winter shipping is allowed to proceed. The Panel also understands that the completion of a land claims agreement may give LIA an important role in marine management.

Given all of these circumstances, the Panel endorses the appropriateness of a negotiated shipping agreement. The Panel recognizes LIA's interests in the management of landfast ice areas, and therefore agrees with its position that this agreement should be negotiated bilaterally. However, the Panel believes that the agreement could be strengthened if DFO participated in the process. DFO raised one specific concern - the possibility that a bilateral agreement might jeopardize ship safety by constraining the ability of the master to make decisions. While this seems improbable, since neither VBNC nor LIA wishes to compromise navigational safety, it does indicate that the Canadian Coast Guard may have a useful role to play in this process, given its knowledge, experience and regulatory responsibilities.

The Panel believes that a bilateral agreement is, in this case, a reasonable compromise, given the interests of the two parties and the likely time lag before the federal government would be able to revise legislation. However, the agreement would include matters of broad public interest, so the Panel would encourage the two parties to make the contents of the agreement public to maintain the transparency of the environmental management process. The contents would include the results of the concentrate storage studies.

Recommendation 97

The Panel recommends that VBNC negotiate a shipping agreement with LIA before Project construction starts. Initially, this agreement should address protocols for shipping during the open water period, as well as the processes to be followed to address outstanding issues of concern around winter shipping. The Panel also recommends that DFO play a role in this process as an advisor on matters of marine safety and environmental protection.

The Panel agrees with LIA that coordinated marine planning and management is needed for the northern Labrador coastal area, especially to manage the cumulative effects of other projects or additional shipping through ice. The Panel also agrees that the Labrador marine environment deserves protection equivalent to that provided for more northerly but similar ecosystems. As participants explained at the hearings, Labrador Inuit are as dependent on sea ice as Inuit living north of 60°.

The Panel expects that LIA would be in a substantially stronger position to pursue this goal once land claims are finalized but would still require DFO's collaboration. While appreciating that implementation of the new Oceans Act is placing considerable demands on DFO's time and resources, the Panel nevertheless believes that the federal government should provide sufficient resources to at least start development of a marine management plan for northern Labrador. A comprehensive planning exercise may not be possible at this time, but the Panel encourages DFO and LIA to identify preliminary steps and perhaps alternative vehicles for broader marine management, as DFO suggested in the final technical session of the hearings.

Recommendation 98

The Panel recommends that DFO and LIA start talks to identify areas of interest, priorities, resources and opportunities related to marine management planning, to determine which elements of an integrated resource management planning process can proceed. These talks should be designed to produce a memorandum of understanding on these issues in a timely fashion. This planning process should preferably take place under the terms of section 31 of the Oceans Act; if they do not, DFO should identify an alternative approach.

Figure 3 shows the relationship of the various agreements and organizational entities to each other and to the Project.

17.4 VBNC's Environmental Management System

The Panel recognizes that the Canadian mining industry has made significant strides in environmental management in recent years. Liability for poor environmental performance is less easily escaped and has therefore become an important factor in maintaining overall business viability. The Panel also acknowledges the roles played by government, labour and public interest groups in achieving these improvements. The Panel was generally impressed by VBNC's proposed EMS framework, and believes the company has the knowledge and experience, backed up by that of its parent company, Inco, to do a creditable job.

Both the federal and provincial governments have indicated that they want to help develop and refine certain aspects of the environmental protection plans. For example, Environment Canada wishes to work with VBNC to develop various pollution prevention and waste management plans, and the Department of Environment and Labour wants to work with VBNC to develop protocols for environmental self-audits. Both the Innu Nation and DFO want regulatory agencies and other stakeholders to approve all environmental protection plans and updates.

VBNC provided information on its proposed occupational health and safety plan, which would provide for regular employee input through a committee that would meet monthly. An expert speaking on behalf of the Innu Nation provided a long list of suggested occupational heath and safety recommendations. He also suggested that nickel mining was inherently very hazardous to the health of workers. The Panel observes that the literature cited in support of this argument dealt mainly with the health impacts of older types of nickel processing, rather than the type of operations proposed for Voisey's Bay. It was not convinced, on the basis of this evidence, that workers at the Voisey's Bay Mine and Mill would be subject to unacceptable health risks.

The Panel observes that, as with environmental management generally, the mining industry has also made big improvements in occupational health and safety, with some notorious exceptions. Workers in the industry, through the efforts of their unions, can take considerable credit for these advances. Concern was expressed that, if the Project was not unionized during the operations phase, employees new to the mining industry - a group that would probably include most of the Aboriginal employees - would have neither the experience nor the organizational support to ensure that their interests were protected. The Panel acknowledges this concern, but notes that there would certainly be some experienced workers on site and that the interests of Aboriginal employees would also be represented by LIA and the Innu Nation through IBAs and monitoring partnerships.

The Panel notes that many of the recommendations made by the Innu Nation expert fall within the responsibility of the provincial regulators. The Panel believes that a detailed investigation of occupational health and safety issues is beyond the scope of this environmental assessment review, but concludes that the Environmental Advisory Board would provide an appropriate forum for dealing with any outstanding issues.

Recommendation 99

The Panel recommends that VBNC prepare its environmental protection plans, emergency response and contingency plans, and occupational health and safety plans in consultation with appropriate regulatory agencies, before construction begins, and that these plans be subject to review and recommendations by the Environmental Advisory Board. The environmental protection plans and emergency response and contingency plans should be developed as field-usable documents, and be reviewed and updated regularly.

17.5 Reclamation

The central objectives of the mine closure and reclamation plans, as defined by VBNC, would be to protect public health and safety, reduce post-closure maintenance and monitoring, and minimize environmental liabilities. VBNC would develop a detailed mine closure plan several years before closure actually takes place. VBNC submitted a reclamation plan framework to the Panel just before the hearings, though it was not part of the EIS. Reclamation would be progressive; as soon as a disturbed area or Project facility was no longer needed, it would be reclaimed to a stable state.

Overburden and non-mineralized rock storage areas would be constructed with appropriately stable slopes, and portions that would be susceptible to erosion would be revegetated. Buildings and structures would be removed, and all disturbed areas graded and contoured. VBNC would ask area residents whether they would like the company to leave any of the transportation facilities (the roads, wharf and airstrip) in place for emergency use. If not, VBNC would remove structures, culverts and bridges, and loosen the surfaces of roads and the airstrip, which it would either seed or leave to revegetate naturally. Aboveground pipelines would be removed and underground pipelines either removed or cleaned and capped.

The reclamation of the open pit, including alternative approaches, is covered in Chapter 6, Tailings, Mine Rock and Site Water Management.

Decommissioning and final reclamation activities should take up to two years to complete. An inspection and monitoring program would check on water quality, the stability of pit walls and rock piles, and the success of revegetation efforts. The EIS also identifies some of the steps that would be taken in the event of a temporary shutdown for operational or economic reasons.

Reclamation requirements would be an integral part of the mining lease, and VBNC would need to fulfill them before surrendering the lease. The standard lease requires the lessee to slope all actively mined areas to a grade not exceeding 30 degrees, and to replace the stockpiled soil and vegetation mat. In surrounding areas, the lessee must "restore the landscaping of the area to a state existing immediately before the activities of the Lessee or to such a state that, in the opinion of the Minister, does not result in the area being adversely affected "

Concerns raised during the review included

  • the need for specific performance standards and guidelines to ensure that reclamation is successful;
  • concern about the use of indigenous plant materials;
  • the need for public input into the development, implementation and monitoring of the reclamation plan; and
  • the need to have financial assurances in place to ensure that money is always available to complete reclamation.

The Panel believes that, for many people, reclamation is one of the central Project issues, for two main reasons. First, Labradorians are all too familiar with the consequences of mining without mandatory reclamation, Schefferville being one example. Second, for both Innu and Inuit, respect and care for the land is a fundamental part of their world view. The Panel recognizes that the proposed mine, however carefully constructed and operated, represents an assault on the integrity of the land to many Aboriginal people, particularly the elders. This in turn leads to a sense of loss, particularly because Voisey's Bay has a special place in the hearts of Innu and Inuit. While a reclamation program would not necessarily remove this sense of loss, the Panel believes that it would provide an opportunity to demonstrate care for and good stewardship of the land, and to involve Inuit and Innu in a "healing" process for the land.

The Panel concludes that VBNC should therefore ensure that Aboriginal people play central roles in all aspects of the reclamation strategy, thereby bringing their own traditional ecological knowledge to the process and also expanding their knowledge and skills base. Indeed, the proposed monitoring partnerships might very appropriately be renamed monitoring and reclamation partnerships.

Recommendation 100

The Panel recommends that VBNC, LIA and the Innu Nation, through the monitoring partnerships, negotiate an agreement to include significant levels of Aboriginal participation in the research, planning, implementation and monitoring of the reclamation plan through the post-decommissioning phase. This agreement should include appropriate transfers of Aboriginal knowledge and technical reclamation knowledge and skills. Through this agreement, VBNC and its Innu and Inuit partners should collaboratively develop reasonable and achievable objectives for the reclamation process.

In the Panel's opinion, the reclamation plan framework provides a good overview of the approach VBNC would take. It identifies a number of specific challenges the company would face, because of the subarctic climate, and the need for an ongoing research program to find the most effective and practical ways of revegetating disturbed areas.

In its reclamation plan framework, VBNC acknowledges the need to minimize disturbed areas and to ensure that activities do not lead to unnecessary damage. The Panel commends VBNC for this approach but recognizes that it is not always easy to ensure that everyone on a work site takes the longer view, especially when under immediate pressure. Therefore, it will be important to find ways to put the concept into practice so that, from the first day of the Project, VBNC employees, contractors and subcontractors are working to develop the final landscape.

Recommendation 101

The Panel recommends that VBNC, as soon as possible and before construction starts, develop policies and reporting and accountability systems to ensure that reclamation objectives are built into all aspects of the Project's design, construction and operations, particularly with respect to minimizing the extent of disturbance. VBNC should

  • continue to develop the reclamation plan in partnership with LIA and the Innu Nation;
  • review all construction and operating plans from the perspective of reclamation;
  • conduct appropriate employee and contractor training and awareness sessions;
  • monitor compliance with the reclamation plan; and
  • report progress, both internally and externally.

17.6 Financial Assurances

During the review, participants expressed considerable concern about the provision of adequate financial assurances to ensure that

  • damage from spills or accidents would be remediated or compensation would be provided;
  • the site would be properly closed and reclaimed at the end of the Project or during a temporary shutdown, and that all environmental liabilities would be removed; and
  • sufficient resources would be in place to maintain permanent water covers over tailings and mineralized waste rock and to address long-term monitoring requirements.

These concerns also extended to contractors and subcontractors.

VBNC is proposing to carry environmental liability insurance, where available, to cover the costs of cleaning up accidental events. Other liabilities, not covered by liability insurance, would be covered through self-insurance, backed by the assets of VBNC's parent company, Inco.

The Department of Mines and Energy is developing a new Mines Act, which will give the Minister formal authority to ask for financial assurances when a mining lease is approved. However, even without this legislative change, the Department has already required mining companies in the province to make financial commitments to cover future reclamation costs, so the principle and practice are well established. At this stage, the Province cannot specify exactly what it would consider acceptable assurance. However, it is acutely conscious of the risks that it would run if satisfactory arrangements were not made, because liability would then accrue to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

The Innu Nation criticized reliance on self-insurance; if the company ran into financial trouble, it would be too late to negotiate other financial assurance instruments or dedicated assets. It was also concerned that parent companies might not always honour the liabilities of their subsidiaries. It recommended that one or more sources of security be required from VBNC, including reclamation bonds, a security deposit, a guarantee from Inco secured by tangible assets, a line of credit and a monitoring trust fund. The Innu Nation also asked for arrangements that would allow LIA and the Innu Nation to get access to those funds, if necessary.

In the case of the Ekati Diamond Mine in the Northwest Territories, the government required both a staged security deposit (so much to be paid each year, with options to vary the amounts depending on the progress made in continuous reclamation) and an "irrevocable guarantee" of $20 million. VBNC has estimated in its reclamation plan that the total cost of decommissioning and reclamation would be around $60 million.

The Panel agrees that financial assurance is a vital part of the environmental management process and that total self-insurance is not an adequate response. However, the Panel appreciates that there are difficulties associated with other tools such as bonds, which generally cease to be guaranteed once the credit rating of the company purchasing the bond dips below a certain level. A variety of other tools are available, however. In the mining lease, the Province should specify which tools provide adequate security while not imposing unnecessary financial burdens on VBNC.

The Panel believes that the Department of Mines and Energy should research a range of options, referring to experience elsewhere, including the Ekati Diamond Mine project. Before attaching requirements to the mining lease, the Department should also seek advice on those options from other stakeholders through the new Environmental Advisory Board.

Recommendation 102

The Panel recommends that the Department of Mines and Energy consult with the Environmental Advisory Board before deciding on appropriate requirements for financial assurances to be attached to the mining lease. Such assurances should be phased in to cover estimated reclamation and post-decommissioning monitoring costs at any given point in the life of the Project, and should include an appropriate cash component. These assurances may also include bonds, dedicated assets or irrevocable guarantees.

17.7 Monitoring and Follow-up Programs

At times during the review there was some confusion about the terms "monitoring" and "follow-up." Monitoring can include both compliance and environmental effects monitoring. Compliance monitoring is a regulated activity and the responsibility of VBNC. Effects monitoring is not currently a regulated function, although Environment Canada expects the revised Metal Mining Liquid Effluent Regulations (MMLER) to include some effects monitoring requirements. Effects monitoring, depending on the issue, could be carried out by VBNC or by other interested parties.

However, under the terms of the CEAA, the Responsible Authority - in this case, DFO - can require the proponent to carry out a follow-up program to verify the accuracy of the environmental assessment or to determine the effectiveness of mitigation measures. Such a program could include effects monitoring.

In the Additional Information, VBNC provided a preliminary monitoring framework, indicating that it intends to revise the framework in collaboration with the appropriate government agencies, and with LIA and the Innu Nation through the monitoring partnerships. The monitoring framework addressed biophysical monitoring only; VBNC maintained that socio-economic monitoring is the responsibility of other parties.

17.7.1 Monitoring Biophysical Effects

VBNC provided a preliminary list of valued ecosystem components (VECs) to be monitored. At the hearings, there was considerable discussion about the criteria used to create this list. From VBNC's point of view, monitoring should focus on those VECs that the EIS predicted would be affected by the Project, because it has already been established that the Project and the VEC are linked by a pathway. As a number of people pointed out, however, there could also be good reasons to monitor certain VECs for which no effects had been forecast, to verify that the predictions in the EIS were correct. At the hearings, VBNC acknowledged the validity of this argument and indicated its willingness to consider monitoring certain additional areas.

There was also discussion about the appropriate trophic level at which to monitor. Predators at or near the top of the food chain, such as raptors or larger mammals, are often of most immediate concern to the public but may not provide the most useful monitoring information. Food chain alterations may take a long time to show up at the upper trophic levels and it may be difficult to separate Project influence on predators at these levels from many other influences. Instead, some presenters argued that monitoring should focus on subjects such as periphyton, benthic macroinvertebrates, lichens or small mammals, which might give earlier and clearer warning of Project effects.

On the other hand, not all effects to higher level species are indirect, through the food chain. The Panel also heard concerns that VBNC was not proposing to monitor marine mammals, caribou, polar bears and waterfowl. The Panel addresses these issues in other chapters of this report. The Innu Nation, based on its experience with the Institute for Environmental Monitoring and Research, recommended that the Panel specify which VECs should be included in the monitoring program to avoid lengthy disputes. But at the hearings, the Innu Nation agreed that it was more important to first establish an effective environmental management structure that would provide an efficient and collaborative way to develop the monitoring program to meet the interests of the various parties. The recommendations contained in Section 17.3 are intended to do this.

The Innu Nation also mentioned the importance of timely public access to raw monitoring data and analytical results, and the benefits of establishing a reference area to distinguish changes caused by the Project from those caused by wider environmental influences, such as climate or long distance atmospheric transport of contaminants.

DFO indicated that it would play two distinct roles, as advisors and as regulators. As the Responsible Authority, DFO would require VBNC to submit its proposed program for review and approval before construction begins, and to show evidence of adequate stakeholder consultation. DFO stated that the monitoring program must be scientifically defensible, with specific monitoring objectives based on testable hypotheses, a position that VBNC and others share.

DFO also recommended that VBNC add numerous parameters to the freshwater and marine components of the monitoring program; carry out additional baseline studies; and develop better knowledge, presumably through experiments, about the potential toxicity of nickel-copper-cobalt effluents in saltwater to different local species. (See Chapter 7, Contaminants in the Environment and Chapter 9, Marine Environment: Land-Based Effects).

VBNC, on the other hand, presented an approach at the hearing that focused more on verifying predictions about the concentration and movement of contaminants by means of aquatic pathways than on the possible concentration and effect of such contaminants in various species, with an emphasis on taking practical mitigative action if necessary.

It appears that some of the friction between DFO and VBNC, in evidence during the review, was based on the differences between a scientific approach that looks for greater understanding of the way ecosystems work, and an engineering approach that seeks primarily to avoid problems or detect and fix them. The two approaches can and in this instance should be complementary, if both parties can focus on some key areas in which greater ecosystem-based knowledge has the best potential to improve engineering practice and consequently improve environmental performance.

The Panel concludes that there appear to be significant common grounds among all stakeholders on which to build a reasonable consensus about monitoring. Everyone wants to see monitoring that delivers meaningful information and that is based on good science and Aboriginal knowledge. The Panel believes that it will be important to put adequate time and effort into reaching agreement on the monitoring framework itself, which should be much more than a list of things to monitor. Emphasis should be placed on determining objectives and parameter selection criteria first.

The Panel also concludes that the monitoring program, as well as verifying predictions, testing models and providing feedback to be used to improve environmental management, would also play an important role in assuring local residents that the environment was being protected to a high standard and that the resources they use were unaffected. Criteria to select monitoring parameters should be developed accordingly.

The Panel agrees with VBNC's emphasis on cause-and-effect relationships and concentration on immediate pathways. However, recognizing that some receiving environments would be affected by multiple sources, the Panel believes that parameters should also be selected to indicate potential combined ecosystem effects of the Project. The Panel also endorses VBNC's intention to develop threshold levels - benchmarks to be used to determine when further mitigative action might be required.

The Panel does not think that it is appropriate in this report to select monitoring parameters; this should be done as part of a larger collaborative process. However, the Panel believes that many useful discussions about candidate parameters took place during the hearings, and that these should be carefully reviewed. The need for additional baseline monitoring should also be reviewed in the context of the areas selected for study.

The Panel recognizes the appeal of establishing a reference area against which the area influenced by the Project could be compared. The Panel is not able to make a definitive recommendation, based on the limited information provided during the review, but it believes that VBNC and the Environmental Advisory Board should address the benefits and feasibility of this approach. It is possible that the Mining Association of Canada, government and other research institutions could collaborate to maintain such a reference area.

Recommendation 103

The Panel recommends that VBNC develop the biophysical monitoring framework collaboratively. The framework should be based on sound scientific principles, the need for practical environmental management feedback, and the concerns of northern Labrador residents and resource users. The monitoring framework should include a data access policy, reporting protocols and monitoring benchmarks to be used to trigger action. It should also emphasize the need for process transparency and public access to information.

17.7.2 Monitoring Socio-Economic Effects

The Project is predicted to have a range of socio-economic effects, both positive and negative, including changes in employment levels, local population numbers, existing and new businesses, local economies, cost of living, housing, health, family life, social interactions and community well-being. In a few cases, such as direct employment, the effects of the Project would be clear as long as good records were kept. In most other cases, it would be hard to separate the net effect of the Project from that of a number of other influences.

VBNC has indicated that it would cooperate with government agencies and other bodies by sharing relevant Project information, such as employment or business statistics, subject to certain confidentiality restrictions. The Province would also require the company to submit information on employment and business benefits on a quarterly basis. VBNC also stated that the financial provisions to be included in IBAs were in part intended to provide LIA and the Innu Nation with the resources to carry out any studies they deemed necessary.

The Panel heard very little from other participants on this subject. The Labrador Inuit Health Commission (LIHC) put forward its proposed program to monitor various indicators of community health, which is intended to help LIHC design and improve appropriate intervention programs. This program is not targeted solely at Project effects, which LIHC agreed could be hard to single out. It requested that VBNC share appropriate information where possible, and VBNC agreed to do this.

The Panel concludes that responsibility for socio-economic monitoring should be shared. VBNC should be responsible for

  • providing information to enable evaluation of their application of the adjacency principle; and
  • monitoring, in collaboration with LIA and the Innu Nation through monitoring partnerships, the effectiveness of its proposed socio-economic mitigation measures, including the relevant environmental protection plans (human resources, education and orientation, Aboriginal involvement and public involvement).

VBNC should also be responsible for responding to socio-economic concerns or problems, attributable to the Project, that have been identified through monitoring carried out by LIA, the Innu Nation or the Province. This response could require VBNC to take direct corrective or mitigative action or to collaborate with other parties to identify the best route to take.

The Panel assumes that LIA and the Innu Nation would need to carry out some basic monitoring to ensure that employment and business targets and provisions in the IBAs are being met, and that the IBAs will contain provisions to ensure that this happens, including a process to deal with the results of such monitoring including dispute resolution if required.

While DFO, as the Responsible Authority, administers the requirement for a follow-up program, the Panel believes it would be inappropriate for a federal department to take responsibility for ensuring the delivery of local and regional benefits. While the Province currently has no legislated requirement to oversee a socio-economic follow-up program, the Panel expects that the Province would wish to carry out this function in collaboration with federal partners and Aboriginal organizations. The Panel expects that such a program would not only provide information to help refine mitigative measures and guide the allocation of provincial resources, but would also help the Province respond to and plan for other major projects, particularly in Labrador.

Unlike the CEA Act-driven follow-up program, which would probably focus on monitoring work carried out by VBNC, the Panel expects that the socio-economic follow-up program would include monitoring carried out by LIA, the Innu Nation, and provincial and regional agencies.

Recommendation 104

The Panel recommends that the Province designate a provincial department or agency to develop and oversee a counterpart to the follow-up program under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, which would focus on the socio-economic effects of the Project. The purpose of this program would be to verify the predictions of the Environmental Impact Statement, to ensure that VBNC is keeping its socio-economic commitments, to evaluate the effectiveness of mitigative measures, and to guide provincial resource allocations for services and infrastructure. This socio-economic follow-up program should be developed in collaboration with the Environmental Advisory Board.

Recommendation 105

The Panel recommends that VBNC be required to submit an annual report to the provincial department designated as holding responsibility for the socio-economic follow-up program (see Recommendation 104), and to the Environmental Advisory Board. This report would describe the Project's performance in delivering socio-economic benefits to Labrador Inuit Association and Innu Nation members and to Labrador residents and businesses. If necessary, the Environmental Advisory Board should provide recommendations on mitigation or enhancement measures to appropriate provincial and regional economic agencies and to VBNC.

The Panel agrees that LIA and the Innu Nation should initiate socio-economic effects monitoring in communities, with the assistance of other partners, as appropriate. These partners would include the Province, especially with respect to health care, education, housing, services and infrastructure issues. University and other research institutions might be interested in supporting other aspects of social and community research.

As with biophysical monitoring, the Panel believes that socio-economic monitoring studies should be based on specific objectives, which would in turn be based on testable hypotheses. In addition, monitoring should be structured to differentiate the effects of the Project by gender and by age wherever possible, in order to track progress towards the equitable distribution of socio-economic benefits.

Recommendation 106

The Panel recommends VBNC provide a gender breakdown for all employment figures submitted in its quarterly reports to the Province.

17.8 Aboriginal Knowledge in Future Environmental Assessments

The Panel notes that the requirement to fully consider Aboriginal knowledge in environmental assessment is a very recent one, and that the CEA Act provides no guidance on the matter. The previous environmental assessment panel with similar instructions (in the NWT BHP Diamonds Project) noted several difficulties in implementing this requirement, which it attributed to a lack of direction from government. That panel recommended that "the Government of Canada develop a policy on the inclusion of traditional knowledge in environmental assessment," which would meet the need to "set out guidelines and standards that developers are expected to meet when preparing environmental assessments." The NWT BHP Diamonds Panel also noted a need to define "the role and responsibility of government in this area." So far as the Voisey's Bay Panel is aware, Canada has not acted on this recommendation.

VBNC told the Panel that it encountered several difficulties in incorporating Aboriginal knowledge in its EIS. It attributed these difficulties to

  • undertaking the assessment in the context of complex negotiations on other issues with the same parties, which complicated both access to Aboriginal knowledge and the ability to plan and conduct effective research; and
  • the absence of an agreed definition of what constitutes Aboriginal knowledge.

VBNC endorsed the recommendations of the NWT BHP Diamonds Panel, and further recommended that the responsibilities of Aboriginal governments be clarified in this regard.

The Panel recognizes that VBNC faced a difficult task. Although Aboriginal knowledge may be the only source of certain information that may be required for an EIS, it may not always or even normally be possible for a proponent to obtain this information, either practically or ethically. A proponent cannot be required to incorporate Aboriginal knowledge in its EIS if those who have this knowledge do not wish to provide it to the proponent for that purpose. It may be desirable for a proponent and affected Aboriginal parties to develop a cooperative approach to impact assessment, but this is not always possible and cannot be a requirement for environmental assessment. It is reasonable that a proponent should make material contributions to ensure that Aboriginal knowledge is brought to bear on environmental assessment, as was the case in this review.

The Panel draws the following conclusions from its experience with this review.

  • Environmental assessment should include all areas of Aboriginal knowledge, rather than traditional ecological knowledge only.
  • It is almost certainly more effective for a proponent to provide material support to help Aboriginal parties contribute Aboriginal knowledge directly to the public review process, rather than be required to include it in its own EIS. Any guidance to proponents in this regard should take full account of the political circumstances in which development proposals may occur, and should not impose requirements that proponents cannot and should not fulfill.
  • Full consideration of Aboriginal knowledge in technical hearings should not imply uncritical acceptance, but rather that such knowledge should be examined as carefully as other expert knowledge.
  • Future panels should have considerable discretion in developing their own guidelines on how Aboriginal knowledge should be brought to bear on their own reviews, based on their particular circumstances, what they find out in scoping sessions and the experience of previous panels.
  • Formal government policies or guidelines that purport to define Aboriginal knowledge, or the ways it should be used or interpreted, will not likely assist the environmental assessment process. Such an approach seems no more realistic than trying to define science or any other form of knowledge for public policy purposes.

Recommendation 107

The Panel recommends that both Canada and the Province should incorporate into their respective environmental assessment processes the principle of full consideration of traditional ecological knowledge. The Panel further recommends that this consideration be expanded to include all Aboriginal knowledge. Governments should provide guidance to proponents on their basic obligations and options with respect to using Aboriginal knowledge in an Environmental Impact Statement or ensuring its presentation in the public review process. More specific guidance on using Aboriginal knowledge in future reviews should be provided by the responsible panels on a case by case basis.

17.9 Cumulative Effects

As required by the Panel, VBNC addressed cumulative environmental effects by assessing the Project's predicted effects in combination with the potential effects of projects and activities "which are ongoing or likely to proceed, and have therefore been issued permits, licences, leases, or some other form of approval, as specified by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency." VBNC's predictions about cumulative effects were integrated into the chapters of the EIS dealing with VECs. The Panel has responded in a similar fashion with conclusions and recommendations in other chapters, where applicable.

The Panel believes that future environmental assessments might be able to play some role in managing cumulative effects, but observes that many of the pressures on the northern Labrador ecosystem and on communities would occur without being subject to any formal assessment.

The Innu Nation recommended to the Panel that regional ecosystem-based planning should occur at the landscape level, identifying and protecting fundamental ecological processes, functions, landscapes and migration corridors. LIA also wishes to carry out marine management planning, based on a similar ecological analysis. The Panel also notes that the Province has put in place a network of Regional Ecosystem Ecologists.

The Panel concludes that VBNC's responsibilities with respect to cumulative effects are to

  • minimize Project effects on the environment through good planning and through the design and effective implementation of its environmental management system;
  • implement a valid effects monitoring program; and
  • share information and contribute to collaborative research, where appropriate.

The Panel believes that the Environmental Advisory Board proposed in this report would provide a valuable forum in which the four parties to the MOU could address cumulative effects issues as they arose. The Panel also hopes that the four parties, continuing in the collaborative spirit that was evident throughout this review process, would jointly identify regional research, planning and resource management initiatives that might be necessary to ensure environmental protection and the development of sustainable communities in northern Labrador.