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

Chief Constable Norm Lipinski, Surrey Police Service. (Submitted photo)
Surrey chief constable says ‘comprehensive’ public engagement to be done this year

Norm Lipinski says Surrey Police Service has ‘good momentum’

Burnsview Secondary in a Google Streetview photo.
UPDATE: Knife recovered after schoolyard stabbing in North Delta

One teen now out of hospital, and other has been released to custody of family with conditions

Surrey-raised forward Jujhar Khaira in action with Edmonton Oilers. (Photo: nhl.com)
Q&A: Surrey’s Jujhar Khaira credits parents for their hard work on his path to NHL

Port Kells-raised player talks about his journey to pro hockey with Edmonton Oilers

Dyllan Petrin is charged related to an ongoing investigation in Surrey involving a kidnapping and assault that occurred in July, 2019. (Photo: Surrey RCMP)
Man arrested in connection to kidnapping, murder investigations: Surrey RCMP

Police say Dyllan Petrin was arrested in Vancouver

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, vice-president of logistics and operations at the Public Health Agency of Canada, speaks at a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa, on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
B.C. records 500 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, 14 deaths

Outbreak at Surrey Pretrial jail, two more in health care

A woman writes a message on a memorial mural wall by street artist James “Smokey Devil” Hardy during a memorial to remember victims of illicit drug overdose deaths on International Overdose Awareness Day, in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, on Monday, August 31, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. paramedics respond to record-breaking number of overdose calls in 2020

On the front lines, COVID-19 has not only led to more calls, but increased the complexity

Eighteen-year-old Aidan Webber died in a marine accident in 2019. He was a Canadian Junior BMX champion from Nanaimo. (Submitted)
Inadequate safety training a factor in teen BMX star’s workplace death in 2019

Aidan Webber was crushed by a barge at a fish farm near Port Hardy

Southern resident killer whales in B.C. waters. Research shows the population’s females are more negatively influenced by vessel traffic than males. (Photo supplied by Ocean Wise Conservation Association)
Female orcas less likely to feed in presence of vessel traffic: study

Research the southern resident population raises concerns over reproduction capacity

(Black Press Media files)
Transport Canada not budging on enclosed deck rules, despite calls from BC Ferries union

There have been at least 23 cases of the U.K. variant detected in Canada, four of which are in B.C.

The Elk Valley Hospital is adapting to meet the needs of patients in the Elk Valley.
1-in-5 COVID tests coming back positive in and around Fernie, sparking concern

Dr Ron Clark of Elk Valley Hospital said one in five tests was returning positive for COVID-19

Ralliers gather in front of the Cityviews Village apartment building in Maple Ridge to protest attempts to evict low-income tenants by the building owner. (Ronan O’Doherty - The News)
Tenants protest pressure tactics by new landlord at Maple Ridge apartment building

Protest held in front of Cityviews Village on 223 St. Tuesday to rally against low-income evictions

Throughout December, RCMP conducted CounterAttack road checks as police worked to keep roads free of impaired drivers. (BLACK PRESS file photo)
‘You can’t make this stuff up’: Stories from the B.C. CounterAttack campaign

Amusing, yes, but a reminder impaired driving affects ability to drive and to make good decisions

Snow is forecasted to appear in parts of Metro Vancouver this weekend. (Black Press Media files)
Snow forecasted for parts of Lower Mainland this weekend

Environment Canada is predicting flurries and snow from Saturday to Monday evening

Most Read