Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is being urged to include British Columbia mining projects and their potential impact to Alaska in upcoming bilateral meetings between the State Department and Global Affairs Canada.
“This is an important first step towards federal level communication between the U.S. and Canada on this issue,” read the letter of Nov. 13 to Tillerson, signed by Alaska Gov. Bill Walker, Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, and the state’s congressional delegation.
The letter noted the importance to Alaska’s fisheries and visitor industry to the state’s economy, culture and nutritional needs, and specifically that the food security and very survival of Southeast Alaska’s Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people depend on keeping transboundary rivers healthy. “While we share common resource development interests with our Canadian neighbors, we must be assured that mineral development in B.C. does not disproportionally impact the ecosystem services we depend on in Southeast,” they said.
The letter notes that while British Columbia’s Tulsequah Chief mine is now closed that acid mine drainage continues to discharge into a tributary of the Taku River, in violation of provincial permit conditions. While the Tulsequah Chief mine was abandoned decades before environmental laws were established in either country, “discharger has persisterd for decades after such laws were enacted, and it serves as an example of an inadequate response by the B.C. government,” they said. The letter also cites the Mount Polley mine disaster in central British Columbia, saying that while the provincial government was quick to respond, the event is a reminder of the real risks Alaska faces as mineral development increase in the transboundary region.
The letter asks Tillerson to encourage B.C. officials to develop public outreach tools to better explain their processes for considering cumulative impacts of proposed mining projects on transboundary waters during the environmental assessment process.
It also asks for a determination on whether an International Joint Commission reference is a suitable venue to evaluate whether mines operating in the transboundary region between B.C. and Alaska are implementing best management practices in treating of wastewaters and management of potential acid generating mine tailings and waste rock.
The letter further urges establishment of a formal consultation process with U.S. state agencies, other federal agencies, tribes and Alaska Native land claims corporations during the environmental assessment process, similar to the consultation process afforded a cooperating agency under the United States’ National Environmental Policy Act.