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

A person experiencing homelessness in downtown Nanaimo last week. (News Bulletin photo)
LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Change approach to combatting homelessness

Letter writers express frustration with status quo

Environment Canada is forecasting snow for the east Vancouver Island region the weekend of Jan. 23. (Black Press file)
Up to 15 cm of snow forecast for Nanaimo area this weekend

Snow to begin Saturday night, according to Environment Canada

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the legislature, Jan. 11, 2021. (B.C. government)
Vancouver Island smashes COVID-19 high: 47 new cases in a day

Blowing past previous records, Vancouver Island is not matching B.C.s downward trend

Nanaimo City Hall. (News Bulletin file photo)
City of Nanaimo councillors like new sustainable buying policy

Finance and audit committee recommends council approve new procurement policy

Action at the Nanaimo Curling Centre. (News Bulletin file photo)
Nanaimo sports organizations qualify for COVID-19 relief funding

Province announces support for curling, rowing, gymastics, softball, rugby, squash, football clubs

Businesses continue to struggle under COVID-19 restrictions as the pandemic reaches the one-year mark. (B.C. government)
Another 564 COVID-19 cases, mass vaccine plan coming Friday

15 more deaths, community cluster declared in Williams Lake

A specialized RCMP team is investigating a suspicious trailer, which might have connections to the illicit drug trade, found abandoned outside a Cache Creek motel. (Photo credit: <em>Journal</em> files)
Police probe U-Haul trailer linked to illicit drugs left outside Cache Creek motel

Hazardous materials found inside believed to be consistent with the production of illicit drugs

Premier John Horgan leaves the podium following his first press conference of the year as he comments on various questions from the media in the Press Gallery at B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, January 13, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Interprovincial travel restrictions a no-go, Horgan says after reviewing legal options

The B.C. NDP government sought legal advice as concerns of travel continue

SD62 bus driver Kerry Zado said it’s common to see drivers lose their patience and pass by his bus while he’s picking up students during the morning commute. (Aaron Guillen/News Staff)
Concerned Island school bus driver says people still pass while red lights flashing

All buses in Sooke School District outfitted with stop sign cameras

The cost of potentially counting deer regionwide was among the issues that prompted Capital Regional District committee members to vote against pursuing a greater CRD role in deer management. (Black Press Media file photo)
Expanded deer management a non-starter for Greater Victoria

Capital Regional District committee maintains current level of support

Gem Lake Top, at Big White Ski Resort, seen at Jan. 8. (Big White Ski Resort)
Big White cancels $7.3M in lift tickets, accommodations due to COVID-19 orders

Since November, the ski resort has been forced to make several changes

Darlene Curylo scratched a $3M ticket, BCLC’s largest ever scratch and win prize. (BCLC)
Kelowna woman in shock after winning BCLC’s largest-ever instant-ticket prize

Darlene Curylo couldn’t believe her eyes when she saw the amount of money she’d won from a scratch ticket

While each person has different reasons for becoming homeless, a UBCO study shows they learn through their interactions with different services to perform ‘as homeless’ based on the expectations of service providers. (Contributed)
Kelowna homeless forced to ‘perform’ for resources, says UBCO study

One participant in the study said ‘It is about looking homeless, but not too homeless’

Aquaculture employee from Vancouver Island, Michelle, poses with a comment that she received on social media. Facebook group Women in Canadian Salmon Farming started an online campaign #enoughisenough to highlight the harassment they were facing online after debates about Discovery Islands fish farms intensified on social media. (Submitted photo)
Female aquaculture employees report online bullying, say divisive debate has turned sexist

Vancouver Island’s female aquaculture employees start #enoughisenough to address misogynistic comments aimed at them

Most Read