The mine permit phase is the fourth phase in the mine licensing process, following staking, exploration and environmental assessment (if required). Chapter 7: Permits for Mine Development and Operations considers the legal requirements associated with the application for and issuance of a mine permit in BC and identifies laws from other jurisdictions which, if adopted in BC, would strengthen BC’s mining regime.
A mine permit is the document that gives a proponent rights to use the land to extract minerals. In BC, mine permits are usually required for surface or underground development or production, major expansions or modifications to existing producing mines and underground exploration requiring excavation, large pilot projects, bulk samples, trial cargos or test shipments. Generally, mine permits are required for all projects, including those that fall below EA thresholds. Thus, they provide an extra layer of public consultation and government oversight of mine projects.
However, the Chief Inspector of Mines has the power to exempt even large-scale mines from the requirement to obtain a mine permit where he or she deems it justifiable based on the “nature of the proposed work”. There are no specific legal requirements to guide the Chief Inspector in making this decision. In contrast, other jurisdictions require permits for all large-scale mines.
Proponents are required to include specific information in a mine permit application, including a regional map, information on present use and condition of the land and watercourses, a mine plan, a plan for environmental protection of land and watercourses during the construction and operation phases, a commitment to annually report on reclamation and environmental monitoring, reclamation plans and an estimate of the total expected costs of outstanding reclamation obligations. The regulatory authority may tailor the mine permit application content requirements in order to avoid duplicate submissions. As detailed engineering and design information is generally not provided at the environmental assessment stage, authorities will generally focus their attention on this information at the mine permit stage.
However, additional information is needed for the government to make an informed decision about potential social, cultural, economic and environmental consequences of the proposed mine. Other jurisdictions require that mine permit applications include information on baseline data collected over a minimum time period, descriptions of land-use productivity, a plan for promoting local employment and business opportunities, details on the proponent’s technical and financial resources and information on proponent’s past mining practices and compliance history.
Proponents are not required to pay an application fee when submitting a mine permit application. Numerous other jurisdictions legally require mine permit application fees. BC should charge application fees that are based on the scale and complexity of the proposed mine to account for the different government resources required to review more complex applications.
Once the ministry receives the mine permit application, the Chief Inspector may refer the application either to various advisory committees, such as a Regional Mine Development Review Committee (“RMDRC”), or to other government agencies for review. BC’s laws should require that other government agencies whose statutory interests may be affected by a proposed mining operation be notified of mine permit applications and recommendations made by other government agencies be included as mine permit conditions. Finally, approval should be required from other government bodies responsible for environmental protection.
While provincial policy requires consultation with First Nations, it is not explicitly required under BC’s mining laws. Further, while BC provincial policy states that the public has opportunities to influence mine permitting decisions by participating in public meetings, open houses and other public forums, as well as by submitting comments during the public comment period, there is no guarantee that the public will be notified of a mine permit application or that public opinion will affect the Chief Inspector’s decision about whether or not to issue a mine permit. BC law should require notification and consultation with First Nations on mine permit applications. It should also require public notification of mine permit applications, public information sessions during the government’s review of mine permit applications and funding for public participation in mine permit application reviews. BC should also establish legal criteria for use of public comments.
The Chief Inspector of Mines has broad discretion to approve a mine permit application where he or she “considers the application for a permit is satisfactory”. The Minister of Energy and Mines may approve a mine permit application where he or she “considers it to be necessary in the public interest”. In assessing whether a permit is “satisfactory”, the Chief Inspector must ensure that certain, limited criteria are met, such as design standards for major impoundments, major dumps, tailings impoundments, water management facilities and plans for the prediction and mitigation of acid rock drainage.
If the Chief Inspector refers the application to a RMDRC, the RMDRC reviews the mine permit application, provides government agencies with a statutory interest in mine development proposals 60 days to review the application and makes a recommendation to the Chief Inspector as to whether or not the mine permit should be granted.
When deciding whether to grant the mine permit, the Chief Inspector must take into consideration written representations submitted by affected or interested persons, recommendations from the RMDRC and any written representations from other government ministries and agencies. However, BC laws do not specify which factors must be taken into account whether to issue the permit and what factors will necessarily lead to a denial of the mine permit application.
Other jurisdictions require consideration of the interests of Indigenous peoples, consideration of whether mine plans comply with existing land use plans, the nature of the mineral reserve, cumulative effects, consideration and evaluation of post-mining uses of mine-related facilities, the proponent’s past mining practices and history of compliance, and the proponent’s ability to meet legal requirements.
Some other jurisdictions also specify factors that would automatically lead to a denial of the mine permit application, for example where lands are unsuitable for mining, where cumulative impacts are not sufficiently mitigated, if site reclamation is unfeasible, if the proponent has previous convictions or does not have a local office. Other jurisdictions also require independent environmental studies and site inspections during reviews of mine permit applications. Incorporating similar provisions into BC law would ensure that factors important to First Nations and British Columbians are given precedence in the decision making process.
A decision by the Chief Inspector does not need to be accompanied by written reasons and is not subject to appeal (apart from by judicial review), which makes it difficult for the public, First Nations, landowners or the proponent to challenge the issuance or denial of mine permit applications. Other jurisdictions require reasons for decisions and provide a statutory right of appeal.
The Chief Inspector of Mines has broad powers to impose mine permit conditions, which can help fill legislative gaps and promote more responsible mining practices. However, the only condition required under BC law is the requirement to file reclamation security, which the Chief Inspector has the discretion to exclude. Mandated minimum permit conditions would help ensure greater consistency and certainty of local community protection from mining activities across the province. Specific conditions required by other jurisdictions include conditions specified by other government agencies, recognition of Indigenous peoples’ constitutional rights, the publication of annual environmental, socio-economic and cultural monitoring reports an annual fee requirement and a specific term for which the mine permit remains valid.
Mines generally have lifespans of several decades, during which time mine site conditions often change. In BC, if a proponent wishes to have its mine permit conditions revised, it must apply to the Chief Inspector. BC’s laws do not provide sufficient details on when a mine permit amendment must be sought, the factors that the Chief Inspector must consider in evaluating the application, or the extent of consultation. Other jurisdictions have laws that clearly specify that mine permit conditions must be amended to reflect material changes, such as mine expansion. This provision should be coupled with a requirement that companies provide notice of material changes to the regulatory authority, as is required under Ontario legislation. Also, in other jurisdictions, the regulatory authority can amend a mine permit for environmental reasons. If a mine permit is amended, other jurisdictions legally require public consultation and that the regulatory authority consider whether reclamation is feasible. In order to properly manage mines over their operational life, BC should include similar provisions in its mining law.
In dealing with mine permit renewal applications, the Chief Inspector has broad powers to impose changes on existing conditions, including mine permit terms. BC laws do not specify what the Chief Inspector must consider in deciding whether or not to approve a mine permit renewal. Other jurisdictions have laws that require the regulatory authority to consider specific conditions, including the proponent’s past performance. Additionally, other jurisdictions have established deadlines for submitting mine permit renewal applications and require an application fee for mine permit renewals.
Changes in mine ownership are common in the mining industry. It is imperative that successive owners and operators are bound by the same obligations as the original proponent, including permit conditions and agreements entered into with First Nations. BC’s mine permit transfer application process does not require new proponents to provide sufficient information, specify what factors the Chief Inspector must consider in evaluating applications for mine permit transfers or hold new owners and operators legally responsible for newly acquired mining operations. Other jurisdictions address these issues with laws that require new owners to submit a plan for continued mining activities and proof of capacity to carry it out, deny transfers of mine permits if the transfer is not in the public interest, require new mine owners to assume all existing liabilities upon transfer of the mine permit and require an application fee for mine permit transfers.
- Mine Permit Applications
- Content of Mine Permit Application
- Consultation at Mine Permit Application Stage
- Criteria for Evaluating Mine Permit Applications
- Accountability in Mine Permit Decisions
- Conditions to attach to Mine Permits
- Mine Permit Amendment Applications
- Mine Permit Renewal Applications
- Mine Permit Transfer Applications