Environment minister says ‘no authority’ to investigate iron ore dust
‘There’s nothing I can do,’ Joe Savikataaq says
Nunavut Environment Minister Joe Savikataaq says it’s not up to him to look into any adverse effects that iron ore dust from Baffinland’s Mary River mine has on people, animals and the environment.
“I don’t have that authority. There’s nothing I can do,” Savikataaq, who is also the territory’s premier, said in an interview Friday.
On Thursday, he advised a group of 11 Nunavummiut who had asked him to investigate the impact of the dust their concerns are “not within the jurisdiction of the [Government of Nunavut] to investigate.”
Earlier this week, the group filed an application under the territory’s Environmental Rights Act, asking Savikataaq, in his role as Nunavut’s environment minister, to open an investigation into the dust that settles around the mine. Some of the applicants belong to a group known as the Nuluujaat Land Guardians, whose members staged a one-week protest and blockade at the mine site in February.
They called the presence of iron ore dust “widespread and destructive” and said it was killing vegetation, impacting animal life and adversely affecting water sources for people and animals.
Nunavut’s Environmental Rights Act allows anyone with a concern to ask the environment minister to conduct an investigation.
But Nunavut’s environmental law doesn’t apply in this case because Baffinland’s approval for the mining activity was granted by the federal government, which supersedes the territory’s authority.
“Section 2 of the Environmental Rights Act does not apply where a person or corporation is authorized under a federal act to carry out the activity,” Savikataaq explained.
“They operate under their certificate, and their certificate is federal.”
Savikataaq suggested the Guardians group should bring its concerns about the iron ore dust to the Nunavut Impact Review Board or to the federal Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs department.
Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. takes about six million tonnes of iron ore a year from its Mary River site. It is currently seeking approval from the Nunavut Impact Review Board for a proposal that would double its capacity to 12 million tonnes a year.
The company says it needs to increase output to make the mine financially viable. Company spokesperson Heather Smiles said this week the proposal to build a railroad to transport iron ore from the mine to a port at Milne Inlet could reduce the amount of dust by 76 per cent compared to its 2019 levels.
Savikataaq said his response was hand-delivered to the group’s lawyer Lori Idlout on Thursday.
On Thursday, the group issued a statement that “expressed regret” at what it called Savikataaq’s “refusal” to open the investigation it called for.
Despite losing its plea for an investigation, the group said it believes Baffinland is required to “minimize dustfall and to contain the dust” and it warned it might take further legal action.
Savikataaq said it was “unfair” for the group to characterize his inability to open an investigation that way.
“We don’t have the authority to investigate,” he said.