Open Letter: Transboundary mining concerns
By Chris Chris Zimmer
September 26, 2016
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the revised draft Statement of Cooperation (SOC) between the State of Alaska and Province of British Columbia that was distributed by email on September 14. Our comments are included below and attached.
The SOC is clearly not a comprehensive solution to transboundary mining concerns, nor was it intended to be. It must go hand in hand with federal engagement that can bring in the authority of the Boundary Waters Treaty, funds and expertise. The SOC is narrowly focused on notification and information sharing, is non-binding and unfunded, and therefore insufficient to address the issue comprehensively.
We do recognize and appreciate that the language about federal engagement in Section 16 has been improved since comments were taken in December 2015. However, instead of simply listing federal engagement as an option, the SOC should be revised to explicitly state that the State of Alaska believes there is a necessary, critical role for the federal government to play in this international matter and that the SOC cannot and is not intended to address all aspects of this issue, including especially, although not exclusively, the need for enforceable protections for Alaskans. Together with Alaska’s congressional delegation, unambiguous and firm-handed advocacy by your administration on Alaskans’ behalf will convey to officials in Washington D.C. that it is now the U.S. federal government’s turn to carry its burden in protecting Alaskan citizens and their interests.
Unfortunately, we are very disappointed to see that the current revised draft SOC does not respond to or address the large majority of comments and none of the questions we submitted in December 2015. We are particularly concerned that our comments pertaining to the areas of federal engagement, financial assurances, defining terms (particularly the definition of harm), transparency and public participation have not been adequately addressed in the current draft. We are attaching those comments and questions here again as they are still directly relevant.
Despite the fact the SOC is limited in scope, is not legally binding and is lacking the commitment of any financial resources for implementation from Alaska, British Columbia or the mining companies, the SOC is a key document on which the U.S. and Canadian federal governments will continue to focus much attention. Therefore, we ask that the following edits be added to the SOC before it is finalized:
We also must emphasize that we do not understand the rush to finalize this document by October 1. It does not seem that the State of Alaska could, in the time between September 23 and October 1, adequately consider and address comments, discuss them with B.C. and revise the draft SOC accordingly. The review time was very short and at a time when many Alaskans were still fishing. Based on the language in the recent June 14 letter from the U.S. Department of State to Senator Sullivan, it is obvious that the existence and continuing progress on bilateral approval of the SOC, in the absence of a parallel federal-level effort, is acting as an impediment in efforts to secure federal and international engagement in an obviously international issue. An effort that you have said you support. We believe it would be best for the SOC and federal engagement to go forward together.
In conclusion we find the current revised draft continues to have significant flaws and is in need of improvement and the current public review process is too short and inadequate. While we do not object to the concept of an SOC, we cannot support this draft. We would like to see our comments and questions answered, review another draft, and see a commitment from the U.S. federal government before the SOC is finalized.
Received September 24, 2016 - Published September 26, 2016
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