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Federal Government Asked for Help in Addressing Transboundary Mining Concerns


November 16, 2017
Thursday PM

(SitNews) - The Alaska Congressional Delegation has joined together with the State of Alaska to urge U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to address the downstream risks that mining in British Columbia may pose to Southeast Alaskan communities and habitats surrounding transboundary rivers.

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The joint letter emphasized the “potential catastrophic effects on Alaska’s communities” from upstream mining activities in British Columbia (B.C.) and urged the U.S. federal government to “help protect overall U.S. interests in this situation.” The letter also called the Tulsequah Chief “an example of an inadequate response by the B.C. government.”

Senators Lisa Murkowski, Dan Sullivan, Congressman Don Young, Governor Bill Walker and Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallott wrote a letter to Secretary Tillerson, seeking his Department’s engagement in their efforts to ensure that British Columbia institutes appropriate safeguards to prevent potential negative effects from the development of large-scale hard rock mine proposals and operations to transboundary waterways and fisheries.

Additionally, the Delegation requested B.C. mining projects and potential impacts to Alaska be included on the agenda for upcoming bilateral meetings between the U.S. Department of State and Global Affairs Canada: “We, like this administration, prioritize the promotion and protection of American economic interests, which in this instance could be threatened by B.C. transboundary mining and inadequate financial mechanisms to assure long term management of toxic wastes and redress for damages from potential releases.”

“Alaskans are out of patience with B.C.’s failure to stop the pollution from the abandoned Tulsequah Chief. B.C.’s failure to clean up the mine is a clear example of why Alaska and the U.S. federal government need to work together to ensure upstream mining in B.C. doesn’t harm our interests downstream,” said Chris Zimmer of Rivers Without Borders.

Zimmer said, “We are glad to see the State of Alaska now working with members of Congress, and hopefully the State Department, to increase pressure on B.C. to honor its responsibilities and promises to remediate the abandoned mine. Today’s letter is an important step in increasing pressure on B.C. However experience has shown us that continued cooperative pressure will be needed to ensure B.C. honors its responsibilities at Tulsequah Chief.”

The Tulsequah Chief mine, located in the Taku River watershed in northwest B.C. close to the Alaska border, was abandoned in 1957 without any remediation. B.C. has wanted a new company to re-open the mine and then clean it up, but two companies have already gone bankrupt trying to re-open the mine and B.C. has done little to stop the illegal pollution. An Aquatic Ecological Risk Assessment released by the B.C. government on July 18 documents “unacceptable risks” from the acid mine drainage. 

“After two bankruptcies, it’s clear the Tulsequah Chief is not a viable mine,” said Zimmer. “The only way to stop the illegal and clearly harmful acid mine drainage from the abandoned Tulsequah Chief mine into the salmon-rich Taku watershed is for B.C. to take responsibility for mine cleanup. The new B.C. government needs to take a much more responsible approach with Tulsequah Chief than the previous Clark administration. We’re glad to see Alaska leaders stepping up the pressure on B.C. and Canada.”

Today’s broad concerns about B.C. mining across the transboundary Taku, Stikine and Unuk watersheds began with the Tulsequah Chief in the late 1990’s. 

“The experience with Tulsequah Chief shows us that Alaska needs specific and enforceable protections to ensure that upstream mining in B.C. does not harm our water quality, fisheries and livelihoods,” said Zimmer. “We don’t want to see similar problems crop up at mines that will be much larger than Tulsequah Chief, such as KSM. It is vital that the U.S. government heed the call in today’s letter to join with Alaska leaders to develop measures to protect our fish, water and jobs from upstream mining in B.C.”

The Alaska Delegation's letter stressed the need for communication between the U.S. and Canada on this issue, for Alaskans’ livelihoods and Alaska’s economic stability, but also to industrial development and job security across the entire nation: “Alaska’s economy and culture are directly connected to our natural resources, many of which are nurtured by our vast river systems throughout the state. The Alsek, Chilkat, Taku, Whiting, Stikine, Unuk, Salmon, and Chickamin Watersheds drain from B.C. into Southeast Alaska.  Increasing mineral development and legacy mining impacts in the Taku, Stikine and Unuk Watersheds threaten Alaska’s world-renowned salmon runs, which support the commercial fishing and visitor industries and contribute to the way of life for Alaskans throughout the region.”

The letter also explained how Alaska’s fisheries are some of the most productive in the world, and represent the livelihoods and communities that are based around the natural resources of the region. 

“Alaska is a resource state and we believe in thoughtful utilization of not only our fisheries but our other natural resources. Mining, like fisheries, is central to our regional economy by providing well-paying jobs and serving as the foundation of America’s manufacturing sector. 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.”

The letter dated November 13, 2017 asked for consideration on the following requests ahead of the Secretary’s upcoming meetings with the Canadian Delegation:

  • Encourage B.C. officials to develop public outreach tools to better explain their processes for considering the cumulative impacts of proposed mining projects on transboundary waters during the environmental assessment process.
  • Determine 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 the treatment of wastewaters and management of potential-acid-generating mine tailings and waste rock.
  • Establish a formal consultation process with U.S. state agencies, other federal agencies, tribes, and Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act corporations during the environmental assessment process, similar to the consultation process afforded to a cooperating agency under the National Environmental Policy Act in the U.S.
  • Support and work towards robust funding and other needed resources for developing a reliable database of water quality  and related data for transboundary waters that can be used to track cumulative impacts, trends and significant episodic changes associated with operating and historic mines in the  transboundary region.
  • Establish an interagency task force led by the Department of State and including the Department of Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, and other agencies as necessary, to work in collaboration with the State of Alaska, and develop recommendations and direct funding to ensure protection of transboundary rivers.


On the Web:

Alaska Delegation's Letter to U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson
Click here (pdf)


Editing by Mary Kauffman, SitNews


Source of News:

Alaska Congressional Delegation

Rivers Without Borders



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