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Congressional Delegation Urges U.S. State Department Protections for Southeast Alaska Rivers


May 17, 2016
Tuesday AM

(SitNews) Juneau, Alaska - Alaska’s congressional delegation wrote to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry last Thursday urging greater federal engagement in the review of British Columbia (B.C.) mines near the headwaters of world-class rivers shared by the U.S. and Canada, mines that threaten salmon and a way of life for Alaskans.

More than ten large-scale open-pit hard rock mines in various stages of development in British Columbia threaten the transboundary Taku, Stikine and Unuk Rivers, which originate in B.C. and flow into Southeast Alaska. These rivers collectively support southeast Alaska’s traditional way of life and multi-billion-dollar fishing and tourism industries.

In the letter to Secretary Kerry, Alaska Senators Murkowski and Sullivan, and Representative Young request that Secretary Kerry “utilize all measures at your disposal to address this issue at the international level.”

“This powerful statement underscores that Alaskans, regardless of political party, want Secretary Kerry to address B.C. mining with Canadian officials so that clean water and healthy salmon runs will support our economy for generations to come,” said Heather Hardcastle, campaign director for Salmon Beyond Borders. “The danger we’re facing here in Alaska is real and was reconfirmed by the recent B.C. Auditor General’s warning. We urge Secretary Kerry to stand up for American jobs and seek International Joint Commission (IJC) involvement in this matter so Americans have a say in the protection of our resources shared by the U.S. and Canada.”

The congressional delegation letter comes following bilateral meetings last month between the U.S. and Canada, and a recent scathing report about provincial mining compliance and enforcement from the B.C. Auditor General. Nearly 20,000 letters requesting IJC involvement were delivered to Secretary Kerry signed by Americans supportive of strong protections for salmon and jobs of Southeast Alaska. The diversity of support on this matter, including Alaska Tribes, commercial fishermen, anglers and hunters, business owners, municipal leaders and outdoor enthusiasts demonstrate the strong and united desire for the U.S. to establish enforceable protections with Canada to protect the jobs and economies that depend on this rugged transboundary region.

"Recognition and action on this issue by the Alaska congressional delegation helps,” said Frederick Olsen, Jr., vice president of the Organized Village of Kasaan and chair of the United Tribal Transboundary Mining Work Group. “Secretary Kerry has a lot on his plate. He has ‘big fish to fry’ in our crazy world but we need him to look over at us. We want to prevent fish from frying in our waters due to B.C.’s mine waste. Our vital waters and ecosystems that nurture our unique traditional and customary way of life demand protection. We must work together with a long-term approach, starting with at least an IJC review.”

“It’s good to see that our elected leaders identify this as a real problem, as it is definitely an international issue,” said Rob Sanderson Jr., 1st vice president of Central Council Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska.

Thursday’s letter from the Alaska delegation comes on the heels of a letter from Washington Senators Cantwell and Murray to Secretary Kerry. Residents of Washington have been major supporters in establishing international protections for Alaskan waterways as, “the Alaska seafood industry supported 23,900 jobs and generated $1.34 billion in labor income in the Puget Sound region in 2013” according to the letter sent to the U.S. Department of State by Senators Cantwell and Murray.

Auditor General of British Columbia Carol Bellringer issued her latest audit earlier this month- An Audit of Compliance and Enforcement of the Mining Sector.

“Almost all of our expectations for a robust compliance and enforcement program were not met,” says Bellringer. “The compliance and enforcement activities of both the Ministry of Energy and Mines, and the Ministry of Environment are not set up to protect the province from environmental risks.”

The findings indicate major gaps in resources, planning and tools in both ministries. For example, both ministries have insufficient staff to address a growing number of permits, and staff work with cumbersome and incomplete data systems.

As a result, monitoring and inspections of mines were inadequate to ensure mine operators complied with requirements. Additionally, some mining companies have not provided government with enough financial security deposits to cover potential reclamation costs if a mining company defaults on its obligations. It’s underfunded by over $1 billion – a liability that could potentially fall to taxpayers.

Given the sheer scale of mining in B.C., and because the environmental impacts of mining can last forever, the report emphasizes the critical need for regulatory enforcement. In B.C., the environmental risks of mining are increasing, but compliance and enforcement are decreasing.

The risks are real as evidenced by the Mount Polley tailings dam failure which occurred during this audit. “To avoid such failures, business as usual cannot continue,” says Bellringer.

To reduce the risks to the environment, this report recommends that government create an integrated and independent compliance and enforcement unit and calls for the removal of the mining sector compliance and enforcement program from the Ministry of Energy and Mines.

Bellringer made an additional 16 supporting recommendations to provide further guidance to government in the development of this unit.


Editor's Note: Comments on the Augitor General report on mining compliance and enforcement were requested by email of R. Brent Murphy Vice President, Environmental Affairs, Seabridge Gold There was no reply.


On the Web:

Office of the Auditor General of British Columbia


Edited by Mary Kauffman, SitNews


Source of News:

Office of the Auditor General of British Columbia


The United Tribal Transboundary Mining Work Group - A coalition of 15 federally recognized Southeastern Alaska Tribes formed in 2014 to address concerns about mining development in British Columbia, Canada.



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