Alaska Delegation Urges State Department to Focus on Transboundary Issues

Requests Meeting With Secretary Kerry Regarding Continuing Concerns Over Water Quality in Southeast Alaska

The Alaska Congressional Delegation joined together to again urge 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 (attached) to Secretary Kerry, seeking his 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.

“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 closing, the Delegation reiterated its requests from May 2015, regarding steps the 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 Delegation also urged Secretary 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. 

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

Related Issues: Alaska's Fisheries, Alaska Natives & Rural Alaska

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