On January 30th Rep Dan Ortiz introduced House Joint Resolution 9 (H.J.R. 9) – Canadian mines on Transboundary Rivers – to the Alaska State Legislature. This is a much-needed step in protecting our waters in Alaska from outside interests.
The resolution calls on the U.S. federal government to work with the Canadian federal government to investigate the long-term impacts that proposed mines could cause to our productive river systems: the Alsek, Taku, Stikine and Unuk. Although a Memorandum of Understanding is in place between Alaska and British Columbia, it is not enforceable and cannot require financial compensation to Alaska if a mining company goes bankrupt and fails to continue water treatment, as in the case of the Tulsequah Chief Mine.
The Association for Mineral Exploration of British Columbia (AME BC), which promotes exploratory mining in Canada, brushed off Rep. Ortiz’s actions and our concerns as based only on “fear and ignorance”.
Their op-ed in SitNews states that the existing Statement of Cooperation between Alaska and BC is sufficient for the protection of water quality, even though the standards that it establishes are not currently enforceable.
It is experience, not ignorance that drives the need for H.J.R. 9.
The recent Mt Polley disaster and over 60 years of illegal discharge of acid mine drainage from the Tulsequah Chief Mine are evidence that BC is either incapable or unwilling to take the steps necessary to protect our interests. We must have strong, enforceable regulations to protect our water. This resolution would encourage the use of the 1909 Boundary Water Treaty, a mechanism for creating enforceable standards and holding BC and the mining companies accountable for their actions.
With 10 large-scale mining projects already moving forward in BC, it is critical that we use all tools available to ensure that mining is held to a high standard and protect, not threaten, our water. Should even one of these mines fail, it would cause irreparable harm to our economy and way of life in Southeast Alaska.
These projects have the potential to harm some of Alaska’s largest salmon producing rivers. The request for federal involvement under the Boundary Waters Treaty has been supported by all 3 Alaska congressional representatives, over 100 Tribal Governments, state and national tribal organizations, municipalities, businesses, and commercial and sport fishing organizations, as well as thousands of individual Alaskans.
The resolution will come before the House Fisheries Committee next week, with comments due before 12:00 noon on March 13th. Please write in and tell the House Fisheries Committee that we must pass this resolution. Neither the BC government nor the mining companies will protect our rivers of their own virtue: the U.S. government must step in and actively protect our economy and way of life here in Southeast Alaska, on all of our behalfs.