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U.S. State Department Again Urged to Focus on Transboundary Issues


September 12, 2016
Monday PM

(SitNews) Ketchikan, Alaska - Alaska's Congressional Delegation joined together to again urge U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to address the downstream risks that mining in British Columbia may pose to Alaska and Alaskans.

Senators Lisa Murkowski, Dan Sullivan, and Congressman Don Young wrote a letter September 08, 2016 to Secretary Kerry, seeking his State Department’s engagement in their efforts to ensure that British Columbia institutes appropriate safeguards to prevent potential negative impacts to transboundary waterways and fisheries. Additionally, the Delegation formally requested a meeting with Secretary Kerry to discuss these issues.

The Congressional Delegation expressed their frustration over seeing little action from the State Department on the issue over the past year.

jpg U.S. State Department Again Urged to Focus on Transboundary Issues

Southeast Alaska Transboundary Watersheds with Large-Scale Mining Activities
Map courtesy Salmon Without Borders

“Alaska is a resource state and we believe, as Canadians do, in smart, thoughtful extraction of energy and minerals. Mining is central to our economy, provides well-paying jobs, helps generate revenues for our treasuries, and serves as the foundation of our manufacturing sector. But we are very concerned about the absence of leadership at the Department of State to constructively and candidly address the transboundary issue and work collaboratively with Canada to find the best mechanism to proactively resolve concerns.”

As mining activity continues to expand in British Columbia, the Delegation urged swift engagement from the State Department.

“Treating transboundary mining issues with urgency and focus today would prevent discord and disaster tomorrow. We need the federal government to partner with Alaska to press Canada on policy answers.”

In the letter to Secretary Kerry, Alaska Senators Murkowski and Sullivan and Representative Young state: “When you visited Alaska last year, we were encouraged by your comment that ‘downstream impacts should not be taken lightly by any country, anywhere.’ But we remain troubled that nearly a year later, we have seen little action from the State on such an important issue to so many. […] We need the federal government to partner with Alaska to press Canada on policy answers.”

The letter includes a meeting request with Secretary Kerry, and outlines specific requests. These requests include the appointment of a Special Representative for U.S.-Canada Transboundary issues, and the creation of an Interagency Working Group to address the concerns of Alaskans and to act on viable next steps and solutions embraced by Alaskans such as a referral of the international situation to the International Joint Commission.

"We are encouraged and grateful for the Alaska Congressional Delegation's persistence in pursuing State Department action to protect the region from downstream impacts related to mining in transboundary watersheds," said Dale Kelley of Alaska Trollers Association. "Fishermen now call on Secretary Kerry to stand up for clean water, healthy fish and wildlife, and American jobs, by securing agreements with Canada to protect our waters and indemnify from loss those who could be harmed as a result of mining activity along the border."

This is the fourth letter sent by Alaska’s Congressional Delegation to the State Department regarding this issue in the last two and a half years. Responses from the State Department, according to yesterday’s letter, have failed to adequately address original questions outlined in previous letters from the Delegation. Moreover, the most recent State Department response referred to the Statement of Cooperation between the State of Alaska and British Columbia, which the Delegation argued, “is only one step in a process which must include federal leadership.”

"We thank our Alaskan Delegation for following up on their previous letter to Secretary Kerry," said Frederick Olsen Jr., Chairman of the United Tribal Transboundary Mining Work Group. "Please, we need direct federal actions in this international issue. We don't need more research on whether the International Joint Commission is relevant to our area. It's been relevant since 1909. When someone possesses a tool tailor-made for a job, they should use it."

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.

“There must be more direct consultation with Alaska Tribes and the federal governments. Our Alaska Delegation recognizes this and we are determined to work with them in moving this forward with them,” said Rob Sanderson Jr., 1st Vice President of Central Council Indian Tribes of Alaska, and Treasurer for the United Tribal Transboundary Mining Work Group that represents 15 federally recognized Tribes in Southeast Alaska.

According to Salmon Beyond Border, nearly 20,000 letters requesting international involvement were delivered in April 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 way of life, jobs and economies that depend on this globally significant and rugged transboundary region.

At the very end of a press conference held in Anchorage on August 31, 2015, transboundary issues were mentioned and Secretary Kerry had little to say on the subject. Quoting a State Department transcript of the press conference, Kerry said "transboundary mines is a serious issue, and the Mount Polley tailings issue is a serious issue. And obviously, we are very concerned about Alaska, the integrity of Alaska’s rivers. We’ve raised it with the local governments, we raise it with the federal government, and we will continue to. But it’s a very – it’s a serious challenge. Downstream impacts should not be taken lightly by any country anywhere. So we’ve got to deal with it."

The U.S. Department of State released a fact sheet in August 2016; however, there was no mention of the ongoing Southeast Alaska Transboundary issues. The fact sheet stated that Canada and the United States have one of the world's largest economic investment relationships. The United States is in fact Canada's largest foreign investor, and Canada is the third-largest foreign investor in the United States.

According to the August 2016 fact sheet, the U.S. investment in Canada is primarily in Canada's mining and smelting industries, petroleum, chemicals, the manufacture of machinery and transportation equipment, and finance.

Canadian investment in the United States is concentrated in finance and insurance, manufacturing, banking, information and retail trade, and other services.

In closing the September 2016 letter, Alaska's Delegation reiterated its requests from May 2015, regarding steps the U.S. State Department can take to help Alaskans address transboundary mining risks.

  1. Encourage British Columbia officials to consider the cumulative impacts of mining and their potential impacts on transboundary waters during the review and approval process for mines.
  2. Determine whether an International Joint Commission reference is a suitable venue to determine whether Canadian mines are following “best practices” in treatment of wastewaters and acid-producing mine tailings – especially in light of the scientific reviews of the causes of the Mt. Polley tailing disposal dam failure.
  3. Establish a more formal consultation process with American state agencies, other federal agencies, tribes, and Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act corporations during Canadian mine permit reviews, similar to the American process of having participating entities during Environmental Impact Statement preparations.
  4. Support Environment Canada’s water quality study effort relating to the impacts of mining on transboundary waters.
  5. Support and work towards robust funding for water quality testing on the American side of the border to establish baseline water quality data, so that the U.S. can file for damages in the event of mining-related damage from Canadian mines.

The Alaska Delegation also urged U.S. Secretary of State Kerry to take several additional actions, as his Department seeks solutions of its own:

  1. Appointing a Special Representative for U.S.-Canada Transboundary Issues;
  2. Creating an Interagency Working Group to address these issues; and
  3. Working with the Delegation to form U.S.-Canada exchanges of legislators and parliamentarians to discuss transboundary issues on both sides of the border.



On the Web:

09/08/16 Letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (pdf)

Fact Sheet: U.S. Relations With Canada

Transcript of Remarks by John Kerry Secretary of State at a Press Roundtable in Anchorage, Alaska 08/31/15



Reporting & Editing by Mary Kauffman, SitNews


Source of News:

Office of U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski

Office of U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan

Office of Congressman Don Young

U.S. Department of State

Salmon Beyond Borders



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