Alaska Delegation Requests State Department to Focus on Transboundary Issues

Cites Concerns Over Water Quality in Southeast Alaska

The Alaska Congressional Delegation joined together with the State of Alaska to urge Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to address the downstream risks that mining in British Columbia may pose to Alaskan communities and habitats surrounding transboundary rivers. Senators Lisa Murkowski, Dan Sullivan, Congressman Don Young, Governor Bill Walker and Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallott wrote a letter (attached) 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.”

In their letter, the Alaska Delegation 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 Alaska Delegation 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 delegation 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.

The full text of the delegation’s latest letter is attached.  

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