January 9, 2006

Nova Scotia sets higher standards for surface coal mine site reclamation

Proponents seeking approvals for surface coal mining operations in Cape Breton Regional Municipality (CBRM) will be required to demonstrate greater emphasis on restoring disturbed land to its former or other productive uses. The Nova Scotia government has made this and a number of other changes to the approval process in response to a study of the cumulative effects of surface coal mining on the island.

Environment and Labour Minister Kerry Morash recently released the study findings together with a plan of action for responding to its four recommendations. "Should any surface mining projects receive approval," he said, "reclamation will be top-of-mind once work begins."

The study was commissioned last April to address stakeholder concerns regarding surface coal mine operations being proposed in the region. Carried out by Jacques Whitford, it provided a framework for determining and addressing the cumulative effects of surface coal mining. The consultants made four recommendations for the environmental approval of surface coal mining applications in CBRM. They address:

*a review of "best management practices" that might apply specifically to a proposed project;

*detailed reclamation planning, including standards, research, evaluation, and community involvement;

*community involvement in the application process, project activity, and reclamation; and

*the potential of effects of a surface mining project to interact with the effects of past, present, and future projects.

The following changes reflect these recommendations.

*Mine operators must follow a newly-developed Guide to Surface Coal Mine Reclamation Plans. A key component of the action plan, it set out specific reclamation measures for the industry. The measures address every stage of activity, from planning and landscape design and revegetation, through site preparation, monitoring and maintenance, decommissioning of equipment and infrastructure, and acid rock drainage control and monitoring. Future operations subject to this requirement will undergo periodic inspections to ensure that they are adhering to their reclamation plans.

*Best management practices identified through the study will be applied to future projects as appropriate.

*Environmental assessment applications must demonstrate that appropriate public consultation has occurred.

*A community liaison committee will be required before any future surface coal mine approvals will be granted in CBRM.

*Applicants may be required by the Department of Environment and Labour to demonstrate that public consultation has been undertaken before an approval is issued for a bulk sample.

*The Department of Environment and Labour will require environmental assessment submissions for surface coal mining projects in CBRM to include an evaluation of potential for cumulative environmental impacts. (The department's environmental assessment branch will develop a guidance document for proponents describing how to conduct such evaluations.)

The department's a summary of its response to the study and a guide to surface coal mine reclamation plans may be viewed on its Web site, www.gov.ns.ca/enla/ea/coalmining.asp.

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