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From mines to electric vehicles: 3 conditions for electrification to look better

OPEN LETTER

While Quebec and Ottawa are planning multi-billion recovery plans aimed in particular at increasing mining to supply a battery industry, we call on our governments to implement all the necessary reforms to avoid undermining sustainable mobility.

For a fair and green recovery of the economy, governments must prioritize strategies that aim to both reduce greenhouse gases (GHG) and reduce the environmental footprint of resource use.

In Quebec, the findings of the State of Energy 2020 are clear: to face the climate emergency, we must electrify part, if not the entire transport sector. It is the largest GHG emitter (43%).

However, one observation is clear: the electrification of vehicles, combined with the growing expansion of the automobile fleet, leads to a significant increase of resource use.

1 – Reduction at source: reduce solo auto

Electric or not, an average vehicle contains the equivalent of 10,000 cell phones in minerals and materials of all kinds. Added to this are all the materials necessary for the construction and maintenance of road networks. Of recent studies indicate that vehicles are also a major source of microplastics in the environment.

With nearly 5.5 million vehicles in Quebec, including 41% large vehicles (vans, SUVs, etc.), the vehicle fleet is growing at an unsustainable rate; it far exceeds the rate of population growth.

And the pandemic has not helped to slow down this trend, on the contrary.

As a priority, Quebec and Ottawa must not only invest in the recycling and circular economy of metals and minerals used in transport, but above all they must tackle the increase in the number of vehicles on our roads.

In a recent report, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) urges all G7 states to do more to reduce the overall footprint of their vehicle fleet.

Several organizations working in sustainable mobility are calling for actions in this direction in Quebec, including the Alliance Transit, Equiterre, THE G15+, Quebec trajectory and To live in town.

The solutions are known, but the government must accelerate their application: drastically limit urban sprawl, increase the various forms of collective and active transportation, tighten regulations surrounding automobile advertising, and above all, real eco-fiscal measures such as royalties-rebates (bonus Malus) to discourage the purchase of energy-intensive vehicles and reduce solo driving.

2 – Environmental supervision of mines

A clean recovery must also involve reforms in the mining sector, the first link in the chain of batteries and electric vehicles.

We cannot claim the development of a “green sector” if one of the links in the chain is not.

The most recent statistics available indicate that mining generates phenomenal quantities of solid waste in Quebec, increasing by 300% over the past 15 years.

The mining sector today represents by far the main source of solid waste in Quebec, more than 20 times the quantity of domestic waste destined for landfill each year.

In 2017, Environment Canada revealed that 76% from metal mines in the country was causing impacts on water and aquatic environments.

In 2019, the Environmental Commissioner deplored major shortcomings in the application of laws governing mining pollutants.

In Quebec, while the costs associated with cleaning up abandoned mining sites already exceed the 1.2 billion dollars, several projects are currently giving rise to major concerns.

As examples, Champion Iron and Pink Lithium propose sacrificing lakes, in particular to dispose of mining waste. Sayona Mining Lithium offers a mine near natural spring water of great purity (the same that supplies Eska water). New World Graphite and CanadaCarbon offer open-air mines in the heart of highly valued recreational and tourism environments. For their part, North American Lithium and Tata Steel both caused spills of contaminated water without facing criminal sanctions to date.

Quebec must be exemplary and plug the holes in its current laws, in particular to require that any new mining project go through an evaluation by the Bureau d'audiences publique sur l'environnement (BAPE). Quebec must strengthen the simple environmental directive (Directive 019) into a binding regulation which has the force of law. The polluter pays principle must also guide government action.

3 – Social acceptability and Mining Law

Quebec is still under the aegis of a Mining Act whose principle of “ free mining » remains largely intact. With a simple click online, anyone can acquire, even today, a claim mining on the territory of Quebec with less than 35$.

This colonial principle which dates back to the 19e century harms social acceptability and respect for local populations. It harms integrated land use planning and the protection of sensitive environments.

Of the 37 MRCs and cities which requested the establishment of Territories incompatible with mining activity (TIAM) since their implementation in 2016, barely 30% have succeeded, lack of flexibility from Quebec and the law.

For example: the MRC of Coaticook was unable to protect Mount Sutton and Hereford, although they are popular for the outdoors and their cultural landscapes; the MRC du Rocher-Percé was only able to protect 6.1% on its territory; there MRC of Papineau, the “Land of green gold”, is currently incapable of protecting lakes valued for the recreational and tourism economy; and in 2019, the small municipality of Grenville-sur-la-Rouge had to defend itself against a 96 million lawsuit of a mining company who contested its right to protect its territory.

Quebec must continue its commitment to review the outdated Mining Act so that it is now subject to the Land Use and Urban Planning Act, and not the other way around. Quebec must also broaden the criteria for applying Territories incompatible with mining activity, while ensuring respect for local populations and indigenous rights.

And after the financial setbacks numerous projects in recent years, Quebec must also review its responsible investment criteria in order to avoid other waste of public funds in poorly planned mining projects from a social, environmental and economic perspective.

In short, the environmental credibility of a possible Quebec battery and electric vehicle sector depends on these reforms. Not acting by claiming to already be doing better than China or other “rogue states”, an argument often put forward by the industry, would not be acceptable. This logic of leveling down would lead us straight into the wall.

* Signatories (alphabetical order): Tom Arnold, Mayor of Grenville-sur-la-Rouge; Denis Bolduc, general secretary of the FTQ; Patrick Bonin, head of the Climate-Energy campaign at Greenpeace; Alain Branchaud, Director General for the Society of Nature and Parks (SNAP-Québec); Gilles Cartier, Association for the protection of Lac Taureau; Diego Creimer, interim director at the David Suzuki Foundation; Christian Daigle, general president of the Quebec Public and Parapublic Service Union (SFPQ); Sarah V. Doyon, general director at Trajectoire Québec; Normand Ethier, spokesperson for SOS Grenville-sur-la-Rouge; Henry Jacob, Action Boréale; Dmitry Kharitidi, COPH; Pierre Langlois (Ph.D), Consultant in sustainable mobility and transport electrification;  Ugo Lapointe, co-spokesperson for the Coalition Québec Meilleur Mine and coordinator at MiningWatch Canada; Benoit Lauzon, Prefect of the MRC of Papineau; Marc Nantel, Abitibi and Témiscamingue Mines Vigilance Group (REVIMAT); Isabel Orellana, director of the Center for Research in Education and Training in the Environment and Eco-citizenship at the University of Quebec in Montreal; Rébecca Pétrin, director of Eau Secours; Michael Picard, honorary professor at the University of Montreal and responsible for the Opwaiak Leisure, Hunting and Fishing Association; Eric Pineault, professor at the Institute of Environmental Sciences at the University of Quebec in Montreal; Alain Saladzius, president of Fondation Rivières; Alice-Anne Simard, general director at Nature Québec; Colleen Thorpe, general director of Équiterre; Rodrigue Turgeon, co-spokesperson for the Citizen Committee for the Protection of the Esker.

Photo credit : Electric ride

 

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