I wanted to take this opportunity to address some issues raised during Green Party of Ontario Leader Mike Schreiner’s visit to Sudbury earlier this month.
During the 2011 provincial election, in which I was a candidate, the issue of mining in the Ring of Fire came up. At that time, Cliffs Natural Resources had expressed interest in developing an open-pit chromite mine in northwestern Ontario, and speculation was rampant that a site outside of Capreol was being considered for the necessary smelter.
At the time, I was asked by the media whether I supported mining development within the Ring of Fire, and building a chromium smelter in Greater Sudbury. Being a careful person, I believe that the precautionary principle should always be used to guide decision makers, so I simply said that I could not support this endeavour without a lot more understanding of the process to be used and the products to be produced.
Without the benefit of technical studies that demonstrate the anticipated environmental, health and social impacts, I indicated that it was premature for anyone to conclude that these projects should go forward.
Since the election, Cliffs Natural Resources has begun the environmental assessments that will hopefully address many of those issues. With regards to the smelter, these risks are primarily associated with the production of carcinogenic CR-VI. Also known as hexavalent chromium, it was the chemical antagonist in the film Erin Brokovich.
Until necessary technical studies have been completed by Cliffs and have been peer reviewed, it remains premature to conclude that the Moose Mountain site outside of Capreol can sustain the proposed smelter.
Questions remain regarding how much of our natural resource will be processed here in Ontario, and how much is intended to be shipped abroad. Further, it is not all clear how much Ontario taxpayers will be on the hook for constructing and maintaining infrastructure necessary for resource exploitation.
It has been reported that Cliffs requires a price of four cents per kilowatt hour for the smelter to be profitable. Last week, according to my residential electricity bill, I was paying an average of six cents per kilowatt hour, and as much as 11 cents in prime time. Clearly, Ontario taxpayers will be on the hook for whatever electricity subsidy the province offers to Cliffs. Schreiner has stated that subsidies for electricity need to be publicly discussed.
While I believe there exists the technological ability to bring these minerals to market safely and economically, it must be done right. An open and transparent process has to be in place.
The precautionary principle must be the starting point of any discussion about prosperity, rather than premature declarations about the project’s viability.
I said as much during the last provincial election and I, along with Mike Schreiner and the Green Party of Ontario, continue to say so today.
Pat Rogerson was the Green Party of Ontario candidate in the Sudbury riding during the 2011 provincial election.