A United States Geological Survey hydrologist collecting samples for water-quality monitoring on the Unuk River, Alaska. (Photo supplied by Jamie Pierce/USGS)

A United States Geological Survey hydrologist collecting samples for water-quality monitoring on the Unuk River, Alaska. (Photo supplied by Jamie Pierce/USGS)

Alaska demands action on B.C.’s ‘lax’ mining oversight

The state worries about impacts on fish habitat in Northwest transboundary watersheds

The United States government has approved US$3.6 million in spending to help Alaska pressure the B.C. government into reforming mining regulations they claim are lax and present an imminent threat to fish and habitat in transboundary watersheds.

On Dec. 21, U.S. Congress approved the Consolidated Appropriations Act for 2021 that included US$3.1 million for the United States Geological Survey (USGS) to expand a 2019 baseline water-quality monitoring program on rivers downstream from B.C. mines. An allocation of US$500,000 was also approved to shore up involvement of the U.S. Department of State to identify gaps in a memorandum of understanding between B.C. and Alaska, Washington, Idaho, and Montana relating to mining activity in transboundary watersheds.

For five years, Alaskan Indigenous tribes and conservation groups have pushed for government involvement over worries of 12 proposed B.C. mines in northwest B.C. near salmon-bearing rivers that cross into the Alaskan panhandle.

As proof of inadequate regulatory oversight, they point to the 2014 breached tailings pond at the Mount Polly Mine in southern B.C. that released billions of litres of industrial waste into lakes and waterways.

“Historically, 80 per cent of southeast Alaska king salmon [chinook] have come from the transboundary Taku, Stikine and Unuk Rivers — and yet, by this spring, all three rivers’ king salmon populations will likely be listed as stocks of concern, and B.C. is rushing through more than a dozen [very large] projects just over the Alaska border in those same river systems,” said Jill Weitz, director of Salmon Beyond Borders.

READ MORE: B.C. Liberals pick critics to take on Horgan’s NDP majority

Scientists, elected officials and conservation groups also want B.C. bonding requirements increased to adequately cover the costs of remediation and spills.

In a statement, B.C.’s Ministry of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation said it has a long history of working with Alaska over common interests, and addresses the issue of transboundary mining regularly through the framework of its Memorandum of Understanding to protect the shared environment, and a Statement of Cooperation on the Protection of Transboundary Waters.

In December last year, the B.C. government unveiled a new Environmental Assessment Act aimed at enhancing public confidence. The Ministry of Environment and Climate Change said they received submissions from three Alaska-based First Nations and conservation groups during the consultation process.

The issue of transboundary mining receives little discussion in B.C., but is a hot-button issue in Alaska over concerns with hard-rock mines, and in states along the province’s southern border potentially affected by B.C. coal mines.

READ MORE: B.C. mayors want key role for resource development in pandemic recovery

In May, the province was forced into conversations with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to explain why a coal mine in southern B.C. was allowed to exceed guidelines for selenium, a toxic heavy metal, at rates four times higher than allowable limits for drinking water, and 50 times higher than what’s recommended for aquatic health.

One month later, 22 U.S. and Canadian researchers published a letter in the journal Science critical of B.C.’s environmental assessment and oversight, calling the process weak and ineffective without regard for environmental risks over economic rewards. The letter urged governments to honour their obligations under the 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty to establish environmental reviews that are founded on independent, transparent and peer-reviewed science.

U.S. senators from Alaska, Idaho, Montana and Washington wrote a letter to B.C. Premier John Horgan last year, further pushing for action on potential impacts resulting from large-scale mines in B.C., including improved water quality monitoring.

– with files from Canadian Press



quinn.bender@blackpress.ca

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Summit Ski Hill had a delayed start to the season because of warm temperatures. Photo: Summit Ski Hill
Late season start frustrating for Nakusp ski hill

Summit Ski Hill only just opened Jan. 14

Four friends were heading to their home on Highway 6 just south of Silverton on the evening of Dec. 25, 2020, when the people in the front of the vehicle saw what looked like a “huge, man-like figure” on the side of the road. (Pixabay.com)
Possible Bigfoot sighting shocks, excites Silverton residents

‘I didn’t see the creature myself, I saw the prints’

A micro-cannabis cultivation facility was proposed for 1370 Forest Road. Photo: City of Castlegar
Castlegar neighbourhood celebrates after cannabis facility proposal withdrawn

A medical grade cannabis facility was proposed for Forest Road

A woman wearing a protective face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 walks past a mural in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, Dec. 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel
115 new COVID-19 cases, no new deaths in Interior Health

There are now a total of 4,970 cases in the region

A woman wears a face mask and shield to curb the spread of COVID-19 while walking in North Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday, January 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
536 COVID cases, 7 deaths reported as B.C. finds its first case of South African variant

Henry said 69,746 people have received their first dose of the COVID vaccine.

Martin Luther King Jr. addresses the crowd during the march on Washington, D.C., in August of 1963. Courtesy photo
Government announces creation of B.C.’s first anti-racism act on Black Shirt Day

B.C. Ministers say education “a powerful tool” in the fight for equity and equality

Andre Robert won $500,000 through a Lotto Extra ticket on Dec. 23, 2020. Photo: Jeanne d’Arc Allard
Creston resident wins $500k through Lotto ticket

“I was surprised. I wasn’t sure if it was true or not.”

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon shared a handwritten note his son received on Jan. 13, 2021. (Ravi Kahlon/Twitter)
Proud dad moment: B.C. minister’s son, 10, receives handwritten note for act of kindness

North Delta MLA took to Twitter to share a letter his son received from a new kid at school

Purcell Wilderness Conservancy expanded with 18 hectares of previously privately-owned land. Photo from BC Parks.
Purcell Wilderness Conservancy expanded following Provincial land acquisition

18 hectares of waterfront added to critical wildlife habitat

Black Press media file
Port McNeill driver tells police he thought the pandemic meant no breathalyzers

Suspect facing criminal charges after breathalyzer readings in excess of 3.5 times the legal limit

Forestry companies in B.C. agree to abide by the cedar protocols based on traditional laws of the First Nation members of the Nanwakolas Council. (Photo courtesy, Nanwakolas Council)
Landmark deal sees B.C. forest firms treat big cedars like a First Nation would

Western Forest Products, Interfor among companies to adapt declaration drafted by Nanwakolas Council

A northern resident killer whale shows injuries sustained by a collision with a vessel in B.C. waters. (Photo supplied by Ocean Wise Conservation Association)
Coast Guard ramps up protections for B.C. whales

First-ever Marine Mammal Desk will enhance cetacean reporting and enforcement

Most Read