State Department Responds to Delegation’s Transboundary Concerns

In response to a letter that Senator Lisa Murkowski, Senator Dan Sullivan, and Congressman Don Young (all R-AK) wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry last month, the State Department told the Alaska Congressional Delegation in a letter (attached) that it will remain in close contact with concerned Alaskans and are committed to identifying the best ways to resolve shared concerns about risks posed to water quality and livelihoods in Alaska by mining activities in British Columbia.

“I am encouraged that it now appears the State Department at least understands the importance of transboundary water issues to so many Alaskans, because understanding an issue is the first step in addressing it. And it is promising to see the State Department show an elevated interest in this topic, as demonstrated by recent trips to the state to meet with concerned Alaskans,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski. “That being said, I remain disappointed that the State Department refuses to address our questions and suggestions, such as to consider appointing a special representative for U.S.-Canada transboundary issues. And it is unacceptable that Secretary Kerry has yet to meet directly with Alaskans on such a hugely important issue. The State Department’s response is a step in the right direction, but we still have a long way to go until Alaskans’ concerns are adequately addressed.”

“I am glad the Department of State and other Administration officials have finally initiated steps to engage key stakeholders as well as the governments of Canada and British Columbia on these pressing transboundary water issues. Yet, further progress is necessary to address the questions the delegation and Alaskan stakeholders have raised,” said Senator Dan Sullivan. “We must all continue to work collaboratively toward solutions that ensure Canadian resource extraction is conducted in a manner that safeguards the vibrant downstream interests in Southeast Alaska.”

“The people of both Alaska and Canada have a mutual interest and desire to develop their own potential natural resources, but we must stay engaged and communicate when the actions of one can have implications on the other,” said Congressman Don Young. “Ongoing and proposed mining activities in Canada have brought tremendous concerns to the people of Southeast Alaska -- specifically with the Tlingit and Haida people – which is why I have always engaged with the delegation to prioritize and facilitate outreach between all parties involved. Although I am pleased to hear about certain progress being made to implement portions of the memorandum of understanding and to address the concerns of Alaskans, I still believe there’s much work to be done.”

The State Department’s letter listed the efforts it has taken to address transboundary water issues, including:

  • Visiting Alaska last August at the invitation of the Central Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska to discuss tribal concerns related to mining activities;
  • Meeting with Governor Bill Walker, Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallott, commercial fishing leaders, business owners, and conservation leaders;
  • Hosting a meeting in April in which the State Department and EPA raised the concerns of potential mining impacts with their Canadian counterparts from Global Affairs Canada and Environment and Climate Change Canada; and
  • Committing to raise the issue with their Canadian counterparts in upcoming bilateral meetings.

The State Department further noted and welcomed the delegation’s efforts to prioritize baseline water quality monitoring in Southeast Alaska. 

The delegation also applauded State Representative Louise Stutes’ work on the House Fisheries Committee to host a transboundary hearing in the Alaska Legislature earlier this week. 

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