AK Delegation Calls for International Cooperation on Canadian Mines

Amid concerns about how the development of several hardrock mines in British Columbia could negatively affect waterways and fisheries in Southeast Alaska, Senators Lisa Murkowski, Dan Sullivan, and Congressman Don Young wrote a letter (attached) to Secretary of State John Kerry, urging for action. The Alaska Congressional Delegation called upon the Secretary to raise these issues and concerns at the international level and secure commitment from Canadian leaders to ensure that the appropriate environmental safeguards are in place for mining development.

“Our precious marine resources greatly contribute to the economy and culture of Southeast Alaska and must continue to be protected. We request that you and other officials from the Department of State raise this issue in appropriate bilateral meetings with your Canadian counterparts and utilize all measures at your disposal to address this issue at the international level.”

The Delegation explained the importance of this issue to Alaskans and the need for assurances that the water quality in transboundary waters between Alaska and Canada will be maintained.

“Like most Alaskans, we strongly support responsible mining, including mines in Southeast Alaska, but Alaskans need to have every confidence that mining activity in Canada is carried out just as safely as it is in our state. Yet, today, that confidence does not exist…. Should there be an impact to the transboundary waters that flow from Canada to Alaska, our state’s fisheries, tourism, and Native peoples could all be hurt.”

The Congressional Delegation explained several concerns of the impacts surrounding proposed mining development, such as leaking acidic waste.

“We must, at the very least, ask for Canada’s commitment to help protect the pristine waters of Southeast Alaska – to match our commitment to baseline water quality monitoring, and to consider other ways to ensure the full protection of our world-class fisheries.”

The Delegation proposed the State Department to work with Alaskans and the Obama Administration to urgently take all of the following actions:

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 ANCSA 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 full text of the delegation letter is attached.

Related Issues: Alaska's Fisheries

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